Last year when I went to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, I picked up a flyer for an upcoming Studio Ghibli film called From Up On Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から / Kokuriko-zaka Kara). The film was released in Japan in July 2011, but by that time I had already returned to the UK.
Now, finally, From Up On Poppy Hill has been shown in the UK as part of the Terracotta Film Festival. As this is the UK premiere, I was delighted to have the chance to go along to the Prince Charles Cinema to see it tonight.
From Up On Poppy Hill is set in Yokohama in 1963 and tells the story of two high school kids, Umi Matsuzaki and Shun Kazama.
The setting is relevant to UK audiences, as it is the lead up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It’s a time when everyone is focussed on the future and wants to get rid of old things to make way for the new, but this is something the members of the school decide to protest against by fighting to keep their school clubhouse. Exiting the cinema onto the building site that is Leicester Square at the moment, I couldn’t help but think I would be protesting with the kids to keep things the way they were, too.
Alongside the story of the clubhouse, there is a much more emotional story – a story of broken families and young love. Referring to this, the character Shun says, “It’s like some cheap melodrama”, and, in a way, he’s not wrong. The story is kind of cheesy and pretty simple (unlike other Ghibli movies which require a second sitting before the story becomes clear), but I liked it in its simplicity and innocence. Umi’s father died during the Korean War, but every morning she raises a flag for him, which draws the attention of Shun, who rides to school on his father’s tugboat. Umi believes that Shun has been sent for her by her father, and their love and friendship develops from there. At the centre of their story is an old photograph, which causes them to believe they could be siblings – meaning they would have to bury their feelings for each other.
In true Ghibli style, From Up On Poppy Hill is gorgeous. The scenery is classic 1960s Japan (complete with Olympics posters), and everything feels “real”. Although the Yokohama that I’ve visited was worlds away from the one depicted in the movie, it left me with a kind of “natsukashi” feeling – a feeling of “ah, I remember that”. Perhaps it was the details that took me so easily to Japan – the rolling up of the futon in the morning, scooping out some rice to prepare breakfast, the red torii gate of the local shrine in the background… All the details were there, and I would expect nothing less from Studio Ghibli.
Director Goro Miyazaki‘s previous movie, Tales From Earthsea (ゲド戦記) was slated by many critics, and I know people have been waiting with bated breath to see if he would recover this time. In my opinion, he did. From Up On Poppy Hill doesn’t quite have the magic of other Ghibli movies, such as the classic My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ), but it does have the beauty, a sweet story, and a lovely soundtrack (which features one of my golden-oldie favourites – “Ue o Muite Aruko” (上を向いて歩こう), also known as “Sukiyaki”).
From Up On Poppy Hill makes a lovely addition to the Studio Ghibli family.