From Up On Poppy Hill is the second movie from Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Like his first film Tales From Earthsea, Miyazaki chose to adapt an existing story, but there the similarities end, as From Up On Poppy Hill is a small scale drama based on comic book series of the same name “ quite a change from the sweeping science fiction fantasy of the Earthsea books.
Set in the build-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the film focuses on Umi Matsuzaki, a teenage girl living in Yokohama. Hers is a melancholic existence “ her mother is away in the USA studying, while her father was killed during the Korean War. As the oldest daughter, she is responsible for managing her grandmother’s house, helping with the cleaning and the cooking for the various boarders who live there. Despite her busy schedule, she always finds time to raise flags on the house’s flagpole overlooking the harbour, in memory of her father and hopelessly hoping for his return.
The new school year brings sweeping changes to her life, as she comes into contact with Jun, a boy at school who runs the student newspaper and who is fighting for the preservation of the ˜Latin Quarter’ a large, dilapidated clubhouse on the school grounds where various groups meet for after school activities, and which is under threat of demolition. As Umi gets involved in the project to save the Latin Quarter, she and Jun become closer, but circumstances conspire to make them believe that a relationship would be impossible. Can they save the clubhouse and will love conquer all?
Admittedly From Up On Poppy Hill isn’t in the same league as Studio Ghibli classics like Spirited Away “ but then it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be. Its ambitions are much narrower; to tell a simple story and to tell it well, and it achieves this ambition. The plot may be predictable, but the characters feel real, are genuinely likeable and spending a couple of hours in their company is a pleasure. This being a Ghibli production, it looks beautiful and if the story doesn’t grab you, you can just enjoy the scenery.