The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

From Up On Poppy Hill

Title: From Up On Poppy Hill aka Kokuriko-zaka kara
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Ghibli
Format: Movie; 92 minutes.
Dates: 16 Jul 2011

Synopsis: Every morning Matsuzaki Umi raises the boating flags at her home above the Yokohama harbour. Down below on a tug boat, a boy, Kazua Shun, answers her flags. He is part of the newspaper club at school and one of the leaders working to prevent the school’s aging clubhouse from being torn down. He recruits Umi to help with the effort. As the two work together they start to become close, but their relationship is more complicated that either of them suspect.

The Highlights
Characters: Endearing if a little too perfect.
Pacing: Slow but steady.
Tone: Quiet yet positive, uplifting.
Music: Well integrated and more adventurous that usual for Ghibli.

After a disappointing first venture into filmaking with Tales of Earthsea, it was unclear whether Miyazaki Goro had the skills to follow in his father’s footsteps. With Up on Poppy Hill he takes a great stride forward, focusing this time on directing and giving us a warm and charming film that lives up to the Ghibli tradition.

Unlike Earthsea, which was scripted by Miyazaki Goro, the screenplay for Poppy Hill was crafted largely by his father Miyazaki Hayao, adapted from an original manga. Considering that the writing was the biggest problem with Earthsea, this goes a long way to explain why this film is so much better. Interestingly, a similar writing/directing arrangement produced the Ghibli entry that Poppy Hill reminded me of most strongly: Whisper of the Heart. Both explore young love and focus on self discovery through personal effort.

The film starts with a mostly silent introduction to the main character as she starts her day and enjoys breakfast with her family and their boarders. This quickly establishes Umi as a responsible and mature young lady. The scene is beautifully animated, with a slightly jazzy tune in the background, and elegantly sets the tone for the rest of the film. It’s a quiet and personal story, and like Whisper of the Heart, it remains stoutly optimistic. Grounded in reality, the story explores its setting well and ties the tale into several historical events and the realities that young people in the early 1960s would have faced.

The staff make great use of wood and stained glass to capture the history and character of both Umi’s house and the school clubhouse. Both locations are filled with colourful characters with little stories of their own that are well integrated into the overall story so that the flow feels natural. The pacing is relaxed and captures the feeling of everyday life. This is enhanced by the music, which features several vocal pieces, including traditional songs and the famous Japanese pop song I Look Up As I Walk from 1961. This marks a nice change from the typical Ghibli soundtrack and added to the nostalgic feel of the story.

My one complaint about the film would be that the main characters are a little too perfect. Umi tends to the house, prepares meals and does the shopping, all without any complaints. Even Shun, despite his daredevil ways, is responsible and hard working. Whereas Whisper’s Shizuku struggled with self-doubt and occasional laziness, Umi seems to have herself completely together. The two leads are extremely likable, however, and their emotions feel genuine.

Overall, the film is a very pleasant and uplifting tale about family, tradition and history. While not as adventurous as some Ghibli movies, it’s a solid entry into their library. Fans who enjoyed Whisper or Only Yesterday will enjoy this one as well.


The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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