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From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)

April 4, 2013

tumblr_mjo31hv7yX1qehmh1o1_r2_1280Studio Ghibli and Pixar are arguably the only two animation studios at current that make quality, innovative animated films on a consistent basis. What makes the films of both studios so impressive is their ability to not only entertain children, but tap into adult themes and tell stories in fresh, ingenious ways. Studio Ghibil’s newest film, From Up on Poppy Hilldirected by Goro Miyazaki, tells an intriguingly simple story that flirts with complex themes and emotions, while still keeping itself a light, fluffy cloud of innocence.

From Up on Poppy Hill is probably the most straightforward kid’s film delivered by the heads of Studio Ghibil. There are no monsters, witches, spirits, or supernatural elements as with the studio’s previous films. Instead, we follow Umi, a high school student in 1960s Japan who raises a set of signal flags in her front yard day after day. A prayer for safe voyages of those on the water, Umi’s flags are a memento to honor her father who died in naval battle in the Korean War. Her ordinary daily routine gets shaken up when a poem appears in the school paper inquiring on her habit of raising the flags.

Simultaneously Umi makes the acquaintance of Shun, an activist within a passionate group of young men who are desperately trying to save their rustic, decaying clubhouse, the Latin Quarter, from demolition. Umi and Shun soon embark on an emerging relationship as Umi encourages the boys of the Latin Quarter to repair their clubhouse to deem it worthy of saving. While Umi and Shun continue to grow closer to one another, a revelation about their past may hinder their relationship in the future.

Hayao Miyazaki is often credited for Studio Ghibil’s greatness and legend. It’s no wonder; his creation of Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away, among others, are marvelous pieces of art that tell beautiful, soul-cleansing stories. However, Miyazaki’s films aren’t the only saving grace of Studio Ghibil as the film’s of Isao Takahata prove, along with the previous directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s whimsically enticing The Secret World of Arietty. Hayao’s influence is smeared all over From Up on Poppy Hill, but Goro’s direction makes it something new and different.

From Up on Poppy Hill is a lavish example of phenomenal art direction. Merely watching Umi and Shun’s story unfold on screen is hypnotic. Complete with rich, refined water-colored backgrounds, the forefront of images tend to pop with vibrant detail as the animation perfectly captures minute components of every scene. The bright sheen of polished wood seems to glow, the deep textures in wood and carvings look almost tangible, and the magnificent way light illuminates through stained glass windows or how it seeps sheepishly through trees is magnetizing.


The source of light in each frame is always depicted in staggering shades and angles. At times, it blares with fierce radiance from the sun. Other times, it shines brightly from high-key overhead lighting of indoor shots or looms through darkness of low-key lighting from lamps. Such detail is barely showcased in mainstream live action films, therefore, to see it in animation is all the more impressive. Even with its editing, From Up on Poppy Hill excels in piecing together ambiguously, magnificent dream sequences and montages.

For some Miyazaki fans, the weakest element of From Up on Poppy Hill may be that it’s story is perhaps too simple, therefore, boring. The film coasts along and even amidst the plot twist, we still glide smoothly like a sailboat through a breeze at a calming, mellow pace. The film stays interesting thanks to its witty script and the humorous, lovable characters we meet along the way, while the complexities of the film result from Umi and Shun’s relationship. As the two start to develop strong feelings for each other, they discover a secret that may ban their relationship from blossoming any further. It’s a theme that may make others uncomfortable, but it’s treated with such delicacy that the only reason to feel uncertain is from one’s own projection of being in the situation.


From Up on Poppy Hill is brilliant in it’s simplicity and one of the better made Studio Ghibil films. It’s not as complex and empowering as Princess Mononoke or possess the same ingenuity of Spirited Away, nor does its whimsical tendencies match that of Porrco Rosso and My Neighbor Totoro. However, it’s a kid’s film in the purest form with creativity and heart. In fact, it was nice to watch a Studio Ghibli film that didn’t require knowledge of esoteric themes about the culture to understand the film, as per usual with the studio’s movies. Instead, we receive a birds-eye view into a time of the past while following a heartwarming story. And I’m perfectly ok with that.

SEE IT. But in Japanese with subtitles if you can. English always seem to ruin the essence of these films.

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