More noise than signal

From Up on Poppy Hill

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Yokohama, 1963. Japan continues rebuilding after World War Two, in the middle of its economic miracle. Sixteen year old Umi Matsuzaki splits her attention between school and running the boarding house she lives in, caring also for her younger siblings and grandmother, while her mother is studying in the U.S.A. As part of this, she raises nautical flags to the wish the ships in the harbour below the hilltop house a safe voyage.

Meanwhile at school, Shun Kazama, student newspaper big wheel, is trying to organise a campaign to save their clubhouse, the Quartier Latin, from demolition. While Umi is initially repelled by Shun’s brash attention-grabbing methods, she soon volunteers to help with the newspaper and the campaign to clean up and save the clubhouse.

This leads to them growing closer, however wrinkles in this plan appear when it seems that the two may be related. The investigation, albeit a rather passive investigation, about their heritage forms a major part of the closing reels, and where a great amount of the emotion of the film resides.

Now, narratively, that’s pretty much your lot in From Up on Poppy Hill, which might seem troublesome for a ninety minute film. Truly, it’s not a hotbed of twisting, turning drama, but it’s no less enjoyable for its gentler nature. Umi and Shun are, in true Ghibli style, hugely likeable lead characters, and engender enough sympathy to want to see them succeed and be happy.

That, it turns out, is more than enough to carry the film, and I’m pleased to see that I enjoyed this just as much, perhaps more, this time around. I don’t think I’ve made a great case for this here, but the combination of looking and sounding as good as (almost) any other Ghibli film – impressive given the less fantastical nature – and lovable characters makes this an easy, enjoyable and rewarding watch. In a cinematic landscape where the Earth is imperilled on a daily basis, the lower stakes here seem all the more believable, and the relationship that this film centres on is just… nice, I guess.

As I say, I don’t think I’ve been the best proponent for it, but of the films we’re talking about today this is probably the one I enjoyed the most, and a sign that there’s a chance Gorō Miyazaki can if not entirely step out of his father’s shadow, at least shine a strong light out from it.

Recommended out of ten.