From her house at the top of the hill overlooking the bay, Umi raises flags as a message to her long dead, but never forgotten father. As she struggles to hold the household together, Umi meets a charming boy at her school and their friendship is forged through the shared endeavour to save a rickety but beloved clubhouse.
From Up on Poppy Hill comes from the highly acclaimed Studio Ghibli, and is the first collaboration between Goro Miyazaiki and his father, Hayao. Hayao wrote the screenplay for the film, and is best known for beautiful animated films including Ponyo and Spirited Away. From Up on Poppy Hill was Japan’s highest grossing film of 2011 and, while the film has been dubbed into English with some famous voices, there is something rather magical about watching the film in its original language, with subtitles.
The story is obviously one that will resonate with Japanese audiences, and centres on a young girl and her friend, Shun, who is struggling to find his birth father, after he was given to his parents in the aftermath of the Korean War. This tragedy, compounded with the notion that both of the kids in the film have lost part of their families is something that will resonate with audiences.
The rest of the story is one of friendship and preserving the past that we come from. Again, this is a universal theme for audiences to relate to, and it is shown in the film in a charming and gentle manner. That said, there are issues here, which mainly come from the balance between the three conflicting subplots. At times, it feels as though From Up On Poppy Hill is not sure what kind of film it is trying to be, and there are issues that are touched on and forgotten, leaving the story feeling a little jumbled.
The animation of the film is beautiful, as we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli. There is certainly something lacking in terms of the bizarre and the magical, but the clubhouse that Umi and Shun are fighting to save is as mysterious as Howl’s Moving Castle, although the film suffers through the lack of time spent in this diverting and complex building.
It seems as though director, Goro, was either intimidated by his father’s reputation, afraid to create his own style or has not found his style yet, as the directorial strength we have come to know from his father’s work is certainly lacking. There are decisions made in terms of direction that leave the film feeling both familiar and slightly worrisome, and distract from the project as a whole.
From Up On Poppy Hill is a gentle and beautiful film that lacks the strength of style and script that we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli. That said, there is something rather sweet about the film, and it is by no means a bad story, it just struggles to get out from under the shadow cast by those who have gone before… And some messy script and directorial choices.