The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 53 – From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

This week sees something amazing – an anime making its debut on British TV. However, perhaps we should not be too surprised as this anime does come from the most famous of all anime production companies: the Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli.

During the May bank holiday weekend, Film4 will broadcast From Up on Poppy Hill, a 2011 movie that was originally based on manga released in the 1980s. The screenplay was co-adapted by amongst others Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of the company and Academy Award winning director. However, this film is actually directed by his son Goro. This is only his second directorial feature, and indeed for many years he did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps, originally working as a landscape gardener. But now he has taken up what could be described as the “family business”.

The film is set in Yokohama in the year 1963, a time when Japan was looking forwards. It was putting the terrible years of World War II behind, and gearing up for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. This film deals with the subject of making sure we do not throw away all that the past has given us.

The central character is a schoolgirl called Umi Matsuzaki, who lives in a boarding house with several other women. Her mother is studying medicine in the USA, while her father died when she was young. He was a sailor who was killed in the Korean War when his ship hit a mine. Umi has the habit of flying signal flags on a specially made flagpole for all the passing ships to see.

At school Umi discovers that the school newspaper features a poem about her flag flying. The paper is produced by the school’s Journalism Club which is based in an old, ramshackled building called the “Quartier Latin”, which is used by nearly all the school clubs but is under threat of demolition. A campaign, partly spearheaded by the Journalism Club’s head, Shun Kazama, is set up to save the building. At first Umi is put off his odd behaviour, but then she finds herself helping the newspaper and soon the two work together to save the Quartier Latin. However, as they carry out their duty, Shun discovers something in Umi’s house which shocks him, resulting in a discovery that shocks both of them.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the role of the director. This is the second film directed by Goro Miyazaki, a man who continues to live under the shadow of his father. This shadow was arguably lengthened following the release of Goro’s directorial debut, Tales from Earthsea, loosely adapted from the fantasy novels of Ursula K. Le Guin of the same name. Tales from Earthsea received mixed reviews when it was released, but considering how generously praised other Ghibli films are, it could be said that Tales of Earthsea is actually the worst of all the Ghibli films.

However, From Up on Poppy Hill was widely considered to be a much better film. It was more faithful to the original manga than Tales of Earthsea was to the original novels. It became the 6th highest grossing Ghibli film ever in the USA. In France it got twice as many viewings as Tales of Earthsea in the cinema.

The story itself is warm and charming. The characters are enjoyable and visually it is depicted wonderfully. While the film does not have many of the bigger themes that are often associated with other Ghibli films like environmentalism, feminism or pacifism, it still makes for a nice coming-of-age story.

From Up on Poppy Hill premieres on Film4 at 17.20 on Sunday 4th May. It is released on DVD, Blu-Ray and special collectors editions from Studio Canal.