When Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro directed Tales from Earthsea his work was not exactly received with rapturous praise, which is a shame because it’s a solid piece of work. From Up on Poppy Hill is his second effort for Studio Ghibli and was much better received. It’s a very different kind of film, and compares most closely with Whisper of the Heart, a gentle little slice of life anime. Like Whisper of the Heart, it centres around a love story between teenagers, and asks a “what if” question. For Whisper of the Heart, that “what if” is “what if your perfect love match you have fantasized over and the stupid jerk stupid jerk stupid jerk who gets on your nerves turn out to be the same person?” From Up on Poppy Hill asks the far more melodramatic “what if you fall in love with somebody and then find out it’s your long-lost sibling?”
This is well-worn dramatic territory, and in terms of something that is being made for a family audience the only answer has to be “you walk away.” The problem for our two main characters, Umi and Shun, is that walking away from your feelings is easier said than done. The solution is of course that the script writers find a third way and… spoiler alert…..
…it turns out they aren’t brother and sister after all. It’s a pretty obvious resolution, but the journey that takes us there is so heartfelt and compelling that it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with a feel-good movie, with a happy ending.
While all that drama is playing out (gently), there is another story going on at the same time. I don’t pretend to be an expert in anime, but recently I have been watching quite a few anime television series, dipping my toe into the genre for the first time. Previously my only experience of anime has been Studio Ghibli and other similar movies. One thing I have found fascinating is the Japanese culture of school clubs. There have been endless animes built around school clubs, and later this year I will be writing about a few of the best I have found, such as Hyouka and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but suffice to say after-school clubs is clearly a big part of the school experience in Japan. In From Up on Poppy Hill, a lovely old ramshackle clubhouse has been marked for demolition, and the students embark on a campaign to save it. Amusingly, it is an overwhelmingly male environment, and hasn’t been cleaned for years, until Umi and her friends decide to change all that. Listen out for Ron Howard as the Philosophy Club president (and only club member!) in the English dub – the funniest character in the film. While we’re on the subject of voice actors, it’s another great Studio Ghibli cast for the English dub, despite not being a Disney one (it might or might not be the case that they shied away from the hints of incest in the film), with Sarah Bolger and Anton Yelchin as the two leads, and the cast also includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Gillian Anderson and Beau Bridges.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you like the more supernatural Ghibli films such as Spirited Away you won’t find any of that stuff here, but for me the slice of life animes are the most enjoyable and… well… beautiful. And I don’t just mean the artwork, although it goes without saying that it’s gorgeous as usual. From Up on Poppy Hill is a film that makes you care.
My Studio Ghibli rankings so far, again simply to help anyone trying to decide your purchasing priorities, but the top 12 in particular are all completely magnificent and only the two at the bottom of the list are ones I wouldn’t want to watch again myself:
- Spirited Away
- The Cat Returns
- Whisper of the Heart
- My Neighbour Totoro
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- From Up on Poppy Hill
- Only Yesterday
- Porco Rosso
- Tales from Earthsea
- Ocean Waves
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- Princess Mononoke
- Grave of the Fireflies
- Pom Poko
I’ll leave you with the trailer as usual. Next time we will be looking at The Wind Rises. RP