Miyazaki Junior got what most Ghibli directors – even ones who make successful films like The Cat Returns – do not. He got a second chance. And since trying to be like otou-san with Earthsea didn’t work, it seems he’s now trying to be like Takahata: this is a whole lot less Kurosawa and vastly more Ozu.
From Up on Poppy Hill is the sober, realistically-told story of some Japanese students in the 1960s renovating and saving their outsized school clubhouse, which they call the Quartier Latin. Two key students involved in this, the someone taciturn daredevil Shun and the mature and headstrong Umi have something of a romantic spark, but things are complicated when it turns out that they might actually be half-siblings.
It’s all a slow and mature sort of a story, and viewers hoping to see another Mononoke-Hime or even Totoro are likely to be disappointed, and to be honest, most people who aren’t keen on arthouse in general will very possibly find this dull. Its closest matches in the Ghibli canon are Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday – and possibly the far-more-dull Ocean Waves. To be certain, there’s a precedent.
Given a chance, any viewer can find things to enjoy – the sweet melodramatic love story, the silly humour of the big chap who runs the Philosophy Club, the uplifting spectacle of the moment the clubhouse’s fate is decided…and the sweetness of raising the flags every day is iconic.
I don’t for a moment think that this is for everyone, especially not the easily-bored, but for those who enjoy simpler, smaller-scale animations, this is a little gem. Arguably there wasn’t much need to make it animated, but it did a great job of recreating a time and place, and I’m not sure live-action would have captured the clubhouse in the same way, nor been able to express Umi’s sudden realization of what the revelation about Shun’s father means for her with such brevity.
Recommended for fans of slow but heartfelt stories. Also, I just have to mention that because of her hair, every time I look at Sora, all I can see is Francine from Arthur.