From Up On Poppy Hill was the top-grossing Japanese film of 2011, earning over $56 million at the Japanese box office and winning the Japan Academy Prize for Animation in 2012. With a screenplay from Hayao Miyazaki, and entering as a nominee for the Academy Awards in the Best Animated Feature category in 2013, the hype for this anime is immense. The story takes place in Yokohama in 1963, where we follow High-School student, Umi Komatsuzaki. She looks after her grandmother, younger brother and sister, whilst completing the housework. Each morning she raises her ‘Safe Voyage’ flag, and heads to school. After witnessing a stunt by the ‘Culture Club’, Umi meets Shu, a fellow student who is ‘second-in- command’ of the club, and Shirou, the President of the Student Council. The mood is one of both optimism and conflict as the new generation struggles to embrace modernity and throw off the shackles of a troubled past. Alongside this character-driven story is the struggle occurring between the high-school and the various students of the ‘Culture Club’.
The real-world setting and small-scale drama of Poppy Hill place the film in that category of the more contemplative and tranquil Ghibli animation alongside Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart, but it doesn’t come close to joining the two in the pantheon of the studio’s most beloved hits. Even with the rushed ending and a twist that is a touch too cheesy, From Up on Poppy Hill is still a charming film. As to expect, the animation is fantastic, with the beautiful colours and ethereal backgrounds still evident. The film’s rich color palette and painterly detail capture the beauty of Yokohama’s harbor and its lush surrounding hillsides, while the 1960’s pop soundtrack evokes nostalgia for an era of innocence and hope.
However, being Studio Ghibli, of course it wouldn’t end on a tragic note, but also for that reason the ending felt rush and that something was “missing.” I find the movie still enjoyable, though, despite its cheesy twist, because of all the period humor and the nostalgia it brings. In the end, I personally enjoy watching this movie. It creates such a nostalgic and heart-warming feeling, which what I want to say, that’s the main strong point of this movie. If you want to look for an anime movie with those criterias, From Up on Poppy Hill is the good one. No big flashes and spectacles in this anime, and that’s exactly what makes it so pleasant to experience. It’s a slice of life poured into 90 minutes of enchanting Ghibli animation. Very refreshing both for the eyes and soul. The bad side, is Miyazaki doesn’t seem to have the confidence or patience to linger on each scene and let us observe what implications a country in transformation have on Umi; we just watch her get into one brief situation after another, few of which are compelling in plot or presentation.
Thematically it’s cookie-cutter safe, despite the fact that the post-war Japan about to begin a miraculous industrial rise would seem to be a rare and ripe backdrop for a more tellingly contextual study of a time of great change in Japanese society and the place in it for the young people and their environment that are drawn so handsomely in the film. This is Goro’s second major accomplishment, and as it seems, he’s gradually forming an artistic expression of his own. And yes, it feels that something is missing, a bit of that magic sparkle maybe, but excellence as we know doesn’t come over night. There is still a long road in front of Miyazaki junior, and if “From Up on Poppy Hill” shows where such road might go, I’m more than confident that many great animated flicks are yet to arrive, bearing a Ghibli signature.