f r o m u p o n p o p p y h i l l
2nd August 2013
10th August 2013
Goro has a lot to live up to. But at the same time, you have to think he’s probably in a pretty privileged position. Son of the legend that is Hayao Miyazaki, it seems somewhat inevitable that he would graduate into animation. From his previous role as a construction consultant. Go figure. I haven’t managed to catch up with his first directorial foray, Tales from Earhsea (from back in 2006) but his sophomore effort, From Up on Poppy Hill has finally made its way over to our shores having been made in 2011.
The setup is typically Ghibli charming - a group of teenagers battle to save their clubhouse whilst two fall in love with each other. Umi and Shun’s path is somewhat complicated by the fact that Umi has to look after her entire family plus borders whilst her mother is away in America studying and it eventually transpires that they may be brother and sister. During this, Umi continually mourns her father, lost at sea during the Korean war, by hoisting signal flags every day above the harbour as she did whilst her father was alive.
So what we have with From Up on Poppy Hill is a relatively straightforward coming of age story. Placing it in a historical context as Japan comes to terms with the recent Korean war and prepares to show itself to the world in the upcoming Olympics gives it slightly more gravitas but on the whole, this is nothing we haven’t already seen.
The animation is typically Ghibli, beautiful painted vistas and wonderful detail is brought to life by exaggerated characters, generally on the periphery of the action. Well, action such as is it. Not a huge amount happens and when it does, it lacked real resonance with me, everything is just too staid. Everything that is, except for the wonderful Clubhouse. I so wanted to spend more time with the wonderful creaking structure with its hidden rooms and bizarre leaders. We get to glimpse the hidden joys of this place with the head of the philosophy club - a massive man (?) who attempts to trap any passers-by into his club. The Clubhouse is easily the most interesting character and occasionally threatens to spin off into the joyous madness of Howl’s Moving Castle. Sadly it never does as Goro stays close to his central characters and their ongoing almost romance.
At one point, on discovering the identity of his father, Shun says to Umi ‘It’s like a bad melodrama’, something that very nearly sums up this film. It’s not bad by any stretch but it is definitely a melodrama and one that lacks a crucial spark to make it stand out beyond the wonderful animation. It’s a shame that the more characterful elements aren’t developed more as its heart is in the right place, it just comes across as a little bland.
Check out the trailer here.