With the announcement of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement from film there are some questions as to how it will effect Studio Ghibli as a whole.
While Miyazaki made the studio famous with his back catalogue of films alone, he went on to make some of the most popular animated films of all time.
However, it’s clear that there a number of people working in the company that can fill his place and continue to make new and interesting films. From Up on Poppy Hill could be a good example of that.
From Up on Poppy Hill is an animated film from Studio Ghibli directed by Goro Miyazaki with a screenplay written by his father Hayao and Keiko Niwa based upon a manga created by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama.
The films revolves around a young girl named Umi Matsuzaki (Sarah Bolger) living with her grandmother in a small Japanese harbour town in 1963. Umi seemingly has a lot of responsiblity as she balances her school work with the day to day runings of her grandmother’s lodging business.
Umi’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) is doctor in training studding in America and her father was killed during the Korean War. To honour her dead father, Umi raises flags every morning, calling out to him.
After a while one of Umi’s Schoolmates named Shun Zazama (Anton Yelchin) starts answering her flags on his father boat and then in the school newspaper.
When the two meet there’s a clear attraction but it isn’t until Umi starts helping Shun with the school newspaper and the upkeep of the school club house, the Quartier Latin, that the two really start to know each other.
Other the course of the film the two are driven apart by family histories and must try and figure out how to move forward with their lives.
While the plot might seem like it’s taken from many romance stories the setting is one of the more interesting elements of the story.
While it had been nearly 20 years since WWII, Japan was still changing a great deal.
While some of these changes were welcomed, other’s weren’t and a war of sorts between the old and the new guard formed in the general public. The film uses this subtly through its side plot as the schools club house gets scheduled for destruction.
Some of the student body see the building as an eye sore that represents the old ideals of the country while other’s think it’s one of the traditions that need to be upheld.
While it isn’t the main focus of the film, the side plots show’s off the setting better than any text crawl ever could. We see the difference between the two groups and start to see some of the repercussions of their different beliefs giving us a better understanding of some of the characters.
On the technical side, the film features great animation, much like you’d come to expect from a Ghibli production. Character’s movement’s are smooth and flowing (it’s just something they do really well).
The films set designs are also strong as every part of the settling looks interesting. From the small town’s sleepy neighbourhood to the crazy school clubhouse, each place looks detailed and lived in. The club house later gets new life as the student body work together to clean and defend the building from destruction.
This trend continues with the designs of the main characters, as they all seem to have their own physical and mental characteristics that make each one of them stand out. Despite this it still can be difficult to determine who characters are due to all the characters largely only wearing school uniforms. For example most of the male characters wear hats, so no one stands out.
Another thing that helps Poppy Hill is it’s music.
Composer Satoshi Takebe delivers a strong soundtrack that can bounce from happy jazz music that makes you tap your toe to heart breaking piano melodies that’ll have you holding back tears at the films more emotional moments.
The movie also features a number of number of songs from the period such as Kry Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki (which I recognized for some reason) and a number of choir songs including a version of Red River Valley (a folk song that possibly originates from Canada). These moments add more depth to the time period and the setting.
Poppy Hill takes the company in a different direction as it was their first film to be released in North America with out Disney (despite the fact that they’re working together for Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises).
While Disney normally brought an all-star cast of North American actors to voice the characters, the new distributers Gkids give us a strong cast of their own.
While the film stars the voices of Anton Yelchin and Sarah Bolger it also features the talent of Chris Noth, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Beau Bridges and Ron Howard all in roles of different sizes and importance.
One of the things that sets From Up on Poppy Hill, as well as most of Studio Ghibli’s films, apart from other popular animated films is it’s heart.
All of their films feature such strong heart and charm that it’s almost impossible for someone to hate them. Somehow this company continues to use a seemingly dying art form (at least in North America) of traditional animation to create characters that stick with the viewer. This is especially true for their female characters.
This film might be one of the best examples of 2D animation in film in a long time and it’ll make some people (including myself) long for the days of tradition animation before Disney and Dreamworks flooded the market with 3D animated films.
While this isn’t a Hayao Miyazaki film, the trappings of classic Ghibli films are present. Strong female characters, great music, charm and more heart than Walt Disney film could every muster. Ghibli proves that they can make great films even after it’s main creator retires.
From Up on Poppy Hill was directed by Goro Miyazaki, produced by Toshio Suzuki. The films screenplay was written by Hayao Miyzaki and Keiko Niwa and was based upon Chizuru Takahshi’s and Tetsuro Sayama’s manga of the same name. The films is distributed by Toho (Japan), Gkids (United States and Canada), StudioCanal (UK) and Walt Disney Pictures (everywhere else).