Five years after his disappointing Tales From Earthsea, Gor? Miyazaki is back with a film that proves he is indeed the son of Hayao Miyazaki, a man who has brought us some of the most beautiful films committed to celluloid. From Up On Poppy Hill is a lovely film about a group of high school students who try to stop their clubhouse being torn down and rebuilt by a large corporation. The campaign draws Umi Mutsuzaki (Masami Nagasawa/Sarah Bolger) and Shun Kazama (Junichi Okada/Anton Yelchin), fellow students who both lost their fathers to the war, into a quietly dramatic relationship that will affect their past and future.
The majority of Studio Ghibli films have some form of magical element to them. Whether it’s the very obviously magical Howl’s Moving Castle or the subtler Whisper Of The Heart, there’s always something. From Up On Poppy Hill is possibly the subtlest of all the films from this studio, as it’s set in our world with no hidden extras or mysterious happenings. That’s not to say there isn’t a magical element to this film, it’s just found in the every day lives of the characters, such as Shun and Umi’s trip to the market and the moment the film gives the audience a tour of the clubhouse. The score helps provide this element as it draws on music from the era and turns out to be quite a playful and sentimental score. There are moments when it seems as though the characters might burst into song, and moments when they actually do (always in context with the film, this isn’t a Ghibli musical), but this is a film where these moments work well.
There isn’t a Studio Ghibli film out there that isn’t a treat for the eyes, even Earthsea has some moments, and Poppy Hill is no exception. The colours, scenery and characters are all as lovely as usual, but the animation isn’t quite up to standard. However, given the story, score and general atmosphere of the film, it isn’t a huge problem and not one many people would notice. It still looks amazing, especially the scenes in the clubhouse and one particular scene involving a painting. This is the kind of film where you have a smile on your face throughout; whether it’s a bittersweet smile or one of absolute joy, it will be there long after the credits roll.
Perhaps the difference here is that Hayao wrote the screenplay and was around to support his son during production (they reportedly didn’t speak during the making of Earthsea). This is a beautiful film, both visually and story-wise, and such a step up from Gor?’s abysmal previous film. If this is the jump he’s made on his second film, then let him make many more, because From Up On Poppy Hill shows he truly has inherited his father’s talent. He might have a way to go before he’s at his father’s level, but if he carries on improving at this rate, he might just have a chance.
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Christina Hendricks
Runtime: 91 min