Goro Miyazaki, son of the famous animator Hayao Miyazaki, makes his own animated film. This is a straight drama with none of his father’s fantasy touches. Instead it tells the story of a lonely high school age girl without a father and with a mother working in the United States. She finds her first love in publisher of the school newspaper, but her father’s past haunts her new relationship. This may be an animated film, but its touching story aims as much for an adult audience. Generally, this is a good story but not a really memorable film.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
Goro Miyazaki, the son of world-famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, resisted going into his father’s profession. He became instead a construction consultant. However, he did accept a job from his father building the Studio Ghibli Museum and that brought him closer to the business. At age 39 he agreed to helm an animated film ‘Tales From Earthsea’. ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’ is his second film. While it is from his father’s studio and in his father’s medium, it is very different from a film that his father would have made. Most of his Hayao’s films have been fast-paced adventure or fantasy and this is a touching drama of a teenage girl unravelling a mystery about her father and about the very Japanese theme of the responsibility to protect the past and of the past’s possibility of changing the present.
While there is no fantasy, the artistic style is much like the Studio Ghibli standard. One can look at a picture of the main character and immediately recognise in the artistic style that the film was made by a Miyazaki.
‘From Up On Poppy Hill’ is a textured and deliberately paced drama looking deep into the character of sixteen year-old Umi Matsuzaki living in Yokahama. It is 1963, just prior to the Tokyo Olympics. and Umi is virtually an orphan. Her father died when his boat sank in the Korean War and her mother is a doctor studying in the United States. Umi lives in a boarding house taking care of her family as a surrogate mother. It is hard work. Umi dreams of having both her parents return, but she knows that is impossible. Umi’s house overlooks the port of Yokohama. Every day she raises nautical signal flags over her house saying she prays for safe voyages. These flags will changer her life.
The local school newspaper prints a poem about the signal flags that get flown each day. Umi goes to meet the poet by going to the local clubhouse, a very old building, slated for destruction to make way for a newer building. Umi builds a friendship with the poet Shun Kazama. She also discovers that most of the people who use the clubhouse love the old building and do not want it to be destroyed. Umi works on her relationship with Shun and organises the eccentric clubs that meet in the building to try to get the clubhouse building preserved.
Goro’s father co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa. Taken from a manga by Tetsuro Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, the story leaves some details a little hard to pick up, at least in the English language version. For example, never spelled out is what is Umi’s relation to the other people living in her building. Some are clearly family, but it seems to be a boarding house.
The affection between Umi and Shun develops slowly. The two friends do not know their own families’ histories, mysteriously linked and the past overshadows their relationship. Miyazaki makes Yokohama seem a pleasant place to spend some 91 minutes. It recreates the period nicely, even making effective use of the Japanese international musical hit “Sukiyaki”, a song that may be familiar both sides of the Pacific.
The film has charm, but overall is a little slight. The plot is pleasant, but bland. There is one very slightly shocking twist to the story, but it is handled gracefully. In the end, it is all settled very quickly and in the end it is a little too pat. I would rate rom ‘Up On Poppy Hill’ a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper