From Up on Poppy Hill
In all forms of media, from anime through to music there are very few artists who you can confidently unwrap the box and know that you’re going to be in for a treat. Even some of the very best artists in the world have released the odd turkey, from Disney through to the Beatles, there’s the odd duffer that could put you off entirely. Fortunately the only turkey from Studio Ghibli has mostly been forgotten and even then, was better than average.
It was great anticipation when I first saw From Up on Poppy Hill at the Brighton Japan Festival a few years ago, in the pre-dubbed, subbed only form. So when the Blu Ray version was released just a few short months ago, I was very interested to see how it managed to compare not only to my memory of seeing a Ghibli film in the cinema – which is always a novelty, but also against the subtitled only version of the film that I had previously seen.
Luckily I was blown away by the quality of the Blu Ray edition of the film and moreso by how much of the film that had been lost to the sands of time. This is not to say that Form Up on Poppy Hill is forgettable, far from it! But that there’s so many twists and turns within the film that I had literally forgotten what the ending was and sat down to watch a film about Japanese highschool children fall in love. Yet, it managed to twist and turn from a highschool romance, into something somewhat political and back again.
Set a year before the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games, it’s around a Japan that’s modernising, that’s moving forward into what it deems as the Twentieth Century and leaving the past behind. It’s important to remember that in 1963 there were still a lot of teenage children who were impacted by the war with Korea. Coupled with the entire mantra of modernisation and forgetting about the war crimes of the past, Japan was a country on the up and this is something that’s shown very clearly throughout the entire film. The march for progress, the goal of showing the rest of the world that Japan was a civilised country meant sacrifices – history.
The plot is primarily about a group of school children who are desperately trying to save the “Latin Quarter” where a lot of the school’s club activities take place; the building is in a state and an old wreck. In the ever moving move of progress, the school governor’s had made the decision that the Latin Quarter had to be knocked down and a new building put up in its place. Sounds like a shaky plotline for a movie, but it’s oh so much more than this. The film is really more of a social commentary on the nature of war, humans and relationship on the whole.
We follow Umi Matsuzaki, a studious and attentive young woman, who lost her father too young in the war. Each day she raises a flag to communicate with her father as she has done for many years. This gives her a unique ability as communicating by flag is not something everyone can do. Umi meets Shun Kamaza, who’s a member of the school’s newspaper club and through his antics to desperately save the Latin Quarter, develop a close friendship. Shun, an orphan is able to develop a close bond with Umi and together they try to get as much community support to try and save the clubhouse and through doing this realise that there’s a lot more to their shared past than meets the eye.
It’s very challenging to try and describe this film without giving away the story and it’s something that you should experience first hand. It’s not simply a tale about boy meets girl or the standard anime fare of the after school clubs being the centre of the world, it’s far more than that. It’s a tale of the human spirit and the depths of emotions that we can all feel living in this shared world. It’s the tenacity and unpredictability of humanity that can cause such pain, without ever intending to. This film hasn’t got the supernatural elements that many people associate with Ghibli due to the runaway successes of Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away and the ever loved, My Neighbour Totoro, but as with many of the earlier and equally brilliant Ghibli films, it’s a human tale.
I’ve seen this film in Japanese and in English, on the big screen and in Blu-Ray on the little screen and the dubbing and the subtitles are both top notch. Although some anime fans resent “celebrities” voicing characters on anime tracks, I feel that a good voice actor is a good voice actor. From Up on Poppy Hill is as enjoyable in its native Japanese as it is in English.
It’s not only a sentimental film, it’s also a beautiful one. The animation quality is top notch and it’s something that only imagine would enhance some of the earlier Ghibli films, such as Only Yesterday to new heights. The picture quality and scenery on each background and in particular the detail of the final shot is stunning.
A beautiful, engaging and emotive film. A must watch. The sedate nature of the film lends itself to the engaging characters and by the end of the movie, you’re willing the characters the very best.