From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

Watched via fansubs/BD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: From Up on Poppy Hill takes a turn to the nostalgic by looking back fondly on the early years of the 1960s, prior to the 1964 Olympics. Umi, a young teenage girl and main protagonist of the film, works in a boarding house when not attending school. Every morning she raises flags facing the port of Yokohama, to signal safe travels to the ships in the harbor. This has become a ritual ever since she was little, when her father left for the Korean war. After his death she continues to raise the flags in his memory. With her mother studying in America, she is left to look after her grandmother and younger siblings, as well as the other boarders at the Coquelicot Manor.

One day Umi arrives at school to be told by her friends that her flags have been written about in the school newspaper. Later on she catches her first glimpse of the newspaper staff and their inappropriate shenanigans. While this first encounter leaves her with a bad impression of the newspaper staff, she still reluctantly goes along with a friend to meet the staff, hoping to find out who wrote the message in the paper. From here on out she finds herself slowly becoming drawn to the newspaper staff, and their cause to save the rundown clubhouse. Umi gathers up a bunch of female classmates, and they work together with the male student club members to renovate the space in order to keep it from being torn down and replaced.

You could call the former the main plot, and I suppose the friendship of Umi and newspaper president Shun, the secondary plot or co-plot. These two end up facing a lot of obstacles of their own as they work together, and deal with their constantly-changing relationship together. Their relationship takes on a very awkward turn, and is not at all what I would expect from a Studio Ghibli film. I was very disappointed as it felt gimmicky and just a way to build up fan service.

Aside from the relationship faux pas, I’d say that the two plots never seemed to resolve with one another in any way. They always felt too separated to take either one seriously.

I agree that the romantic plot twist is gimmicky, but I think the two main plots are integrally tied together. Without Shun’s role in the student newspaper, Umi never would’ve been drawn into the struggle to keep the Quartier Latin. You wouldn’t have the main plot without the film’s romantic plot.

PLOT: It’s 1963 in Yokohama, a port city near Tokyo. Sixteen-year-old Umi lives at a boarding house that she runs for her grandmother while her mother’s studying in America. Her father has been missing since the Korean War, and she raises nautical flags every morning in his memory. One day, a poem about her flags appears in the school’s student paper, piquing Umi’s interest as to who has noticed her flags.

While investigating who wrote the poem, Umi gets to know the members of the school paper, particularly Shun. Shun and his clubmates—along with many of the male students—are concerned about the impending demolition of the old, run-down club house, fondly named the Quartier Latin after the area of Paris that’s full of students. The school wants to tear down the clubhouse and replace it with a newer building in anticipation of the 1964 Olympics, but the students whose clubs operate out of it can’t stand the idea because they love the building’s musty, antique feel.

As Umi gets to know Shun, she latches onto his cause and brings along a host of girls to support them. Through a lot of campaigning, cleaning, and going straight to the school’s chairman, the students hope to save the Quartier Latin and display its unique culture. This takes up a good deal of the film’s time and could be considered the main plot, because it’s so central to the lives of the main characters. Though it sounds like a boring plot, it’s actually quite exciting, especially given all of the attention paid to making the clubhouse feel like a living, breathing character.

The rest of the plot focuses, as you might expect, on the budding relationship between Umi and Shun. They face some unexpected difficulties, which I found quite surprising for a Studio Ghibli film, but the film still ends on a positive note. Overall, it’s a well-paced, nostalgia-filled film about 1963 which has just enough emotional impact to make it stick.

I really wish Ghibli hadn’t taken that weird relationship turn. I think a lot of time was wasted on re-resolving issues rather than building up some sort of real drama, which could have tied the two plots in together better.

SETTING: Another Studio Ghibli movie, and another port city. I can see where the setting is a requisite to the plot, but the movie almost comes across more as an ode to water. While watching the movie with two other artist friends, one couldn’t help but notice that water was a chief component of every single scene. Hardly a moment goes by without that reminder, though thematically I don’t know that it was that important to emphasize in the film as neither character spent much time in or near the actual harbor.

In fact, the majority of the film focused primarily on the school and club house buildings. Umi and Shun spend many a day working inside of the downtrodden and dilapidated building trying to restore it to its prior magnificence. Scene after scene illustrates young girls dusting off piles of books and banisters, while young men balance on ladders and toss out old junky equipment. It’s pretty evident the building hadn’t been taken care of in years, and had turned into a jungle of tents and piles of trash.

Really I think the use of the sea, ships, and flags is all just a silly way to make the story more romantic. Umi and Shun would have met anyways, and worked together on the club house, but throwing in the romantic element of the flags is supposed to be our visual cue that “it’s meant to be”. I can respect this decision, but I think it should have been implemented better.

SETTING: The Quartier Latin’s the central setting of From Up on Poppy Hill, and it doesn’t disappoint. The house is tall and the inside rambling, full of clubrooms that were created from tents in the hallways and stacks of papers dating back decades. The wallpaper’s peeling, the chandeliers are broken, and cobwebs cover the corners of the ceilings. All of this gives the clubhouse an immediate charm, though, in the sense that it feels like a building that’s been loved and lived in by generations of students. It could stand to be cleaner, and it looks fantastic once the girls give it a thorough cleaning, but the core, studious-to-the-extreme feel of the Quartier Latin is a constant.

Yokohama also has a particular feel to it, one that contrasts strongly with Tokyo when Umi and Shun go there to visit the school’s chairman. Yokohama is a laid-back port town, one that has old, small shops where everyone knows each other. This very particular setting is a welcome change from all of the anime that take place in anonymously generic towns, and the port is a key component of Yokohama’s role in the film. The characters visit the port several times, and the nautical flags used stress how important the port is to several of the film’s characters.

I wish the film had focused more on the port setting and how influential it was to both characters, their identities, and back stories. It ended up feeling to me like it was hastily tacked on.

CHARACTERS: The cast from From Up on Poppy Hill may have been wonderful and charming, but it was entirely too expansive. In the beginning of the film we are roughly introduced to the daily rituals of the Coquelicot Manor and its many inhabitants. These characters, while integral to the family dynamic of Umi’s life and backstory, are hardly present in the main plot of the film and seen merely in passing.

Then there are the classmates of Umi and Shun, who exude a wonderfully vibrant energy and camaraderie in their task to save the club house. Again, these characters are exciting, dynamic, and interesting, but we hardly see them develop. They mainly function as supports and catalysts to Shun and Umi.

Shun is the president of the newspaper staff, and one of the main leaders in restoring the club house. His crazy antics give him a bad reputation for being a trouble maker. Umi helps him repurpose his energy into better ways to save the club house, and he ends greatly admiring her for her dedication and compassion. Throughout the film Shun deals with identity issues as he realizes his parents aren’t quite what he thought. This causes some drama and miscommunication which I felt to be rather unnecessary and to be a cheap gimmick. I’d go into it more, but that would require spoilers. Either way, I never felt too compelled by his connection to the sea, and therefore found the romance in the flags to be rather weak.

I found Umi to be a compelling character. She is a hard worker, and often takes on more than she should. I would have liked to see more development in her as she deals with the turmoil of rejection along with her hectic life style. As a comparison, you can look back to Whisper of the Heart and the beautifully-realized scene where Shizuku slides out of her chair onto the floor in angst, in turn knocking down all of the papers. You can visually feel the weight of the emotional burden. In comparison, From Up on Poppy Hill lacks that emotionally strength to tie in the viewer to the cast.

I loved the huge cast of this film in the same way that I love the cast of Porco Rosso, where we see individualistic characters in every aspect of the main characters’ lives. It’s impossible to develop all of these characters, but I love how this film includes so many great characters, even if they’re only onscreen briefly.

CHARACTERS: Umi’s a collected and hardworking girl of sixteen, though this isn’t surprisingly given the kinds of characters who appear in Ghibli films. As the film opens, she dazzled me with how deftly she took care of her many household duties (all before going to school!), and, as the film progressed, I felt worry about them slipping from her mind due to romance and the Quartier Latin. Of course, everything works out fine in the end, but I felt for Umi, with her balancing act between school and home that leaves little room for extracurriculars or romance. Like many teenage girls, she could stand to have better communication with Shun, but otherwise I found her completely adorable and easy to root for.

Shun’s also an immediately-likable lead, bounding into the film with energy from the moment he jumps out of the Quartier Latin into its old pond. Though this gives Umi a bad first impression, I always knew she’d warm up to him, and he easily deserves it with such an eager, likable personality. His angst later in the film, which leads him to ignore Umi for a while, is understandable once it’s explained, but it’s definitely a case of characters needing to talk to each other. Why won’t people just talk?! It’d clear up these things so much quicker and save a lot of teen angst.

The secondary characters are a colorful lot, as well, with everyone feeling distinct, from the boarders at Umi’s home to the club members who populate the Quartier Latin. I can’t think of anyone I disliked in this film, and there are quite a few that I loved. The plot does introduce characters with some clichés, like Umi’s mother returning home just when she needs to talk, but that’s to be expected, and the film never feels manipulative in these moments.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I appreciated the careful thought the animation staff put into the character designs. Each character looks like they fit into the Studio Ghibli universe, without feeling like a carbon copy of someone else. I found this especially refreshing with Umi, who looks and acts quite different than most heroines from Ghibli films. Perhaps this has to do with Goro Miyazaki being the director, I’m not certain. If so, I find it rather disappointing, as the characters felt a bit hollow and underdeveloped as personalities, despite their unique characterizations.

Of course the animation and backgrounds were gorgeous. You can hardly fault the movie for using the sea rather thoughtlessly, when it looks so stunning as a backdrop to every event. The club house too has quite the whimsical charm, and truly harnesses the essence of a Ghibli building. You can feel the presence of generations of youth making their mark in the space, and it almost feels magical.

Just like Crystal, I very much enjoyed the downtown feel of Yokohama and its comparison to the quickly developing mega-city Tokyo. Both served as remarkable looks back into the nostalgia of the ‘60s.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: As I always expect with Studio Ghibli films, From Up on Poppy Hill is beautiful to the core. The backgrounds are heavily detailed and realistic, easily invoking a warm, nostalgic feel of Japan in 1963. The Quartier Latin’s the most impressive setting of the film, and it’s crammed with details about every aspect of the house imaginable, letting the animators run wild with ideas about how students would live and work in such an old clubhouse. The Quartier Latin truly is the highlight of the film, and seeing its final reveal is emotionally satisfying, especially considering all of the work put into it.

The characters also look great and move well, with everyone looking distinct, even from characters in other Ghibli movies. Other anime resort to crazy hairstyles and costumes, but Ghibli just needs to alter a few details to create different characters, which reinforces how much they’re masters of this medium. I have no complaints here, just praise for how gorgeous this movie is, which excites me a lot, considering that it’s only the second film from Goro Miyazaki.

OVERALL: From Up on Poppy Hill fails to truly captivate. As one of my artist friends (who I saw the film with) puts it, the film lacks the magical and whimsical essence that makes so many of Ghibli’s films magnificent. Whisper of the Heart had the fantasy and escapism of fiction, and Kiki’s Delivery Service has the exploration of identity and finding one’s role in society. From Up on Poppy Hill lacks any sort of personal, familial, or societal development to build a connection with the viewer. Additionally, it lacks any sort of magic or whimsy beyond miscommunication, a couple of old photos, and some flags. Sure it’s “romantic”, but I feel this could have taken a stronger presence rather than being thrown on the back burner as a half-baked backstory.

I wouldn’t say not to watch this movie, but don’t go in with high expectations to see anything revolutionary. Aside from the nostalgia and beautiful animation, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this film stand out.

OVERALL: As Goro Miyazaki’s second film, From Up on Poppy Hill had high expectations to live up to, and I think it succeeded. It’s not a film about “deep” issues like war or the environment, but it’s an incredibly strong film about student life, growing up, and the confusion of love. Though his father scripted this movie, Goro Miyazaki was in charge of the execution, and he absolutely follows through in pacing and establishing mood and setting. The plot twist with Umi and Shun’s relationship is a little strange and feels almost too close to current anime trends, but that’s forgivable with how well the rest of this film nostalgically evokes student life in 1963. Even if I’ll never be able to experience that time period, I feel like I was there in this film, and it successfully made me believe that it would’ve been a great time. Considering its nostalgic purpose, I don’t think From Up on Poppy Hill could’ve done better than that.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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5 thoughts on “From Up on Poppy Hill

    • Thank you for sharing your opinion. Not all fans are going to have the time or resources to watch everything. We do our best to provide insightful information on various anime series to properly inform viewers so they can make a decision for themselves based on their own knowledge of their tastes. You are correct that not everyone might agree with our opinions. I stand by what I said, but I think the movie can be a very enjoyable watch and I am glad there are many out there who enjoyed themselves watching it.

      -W

      • Love your blog, by the way. Are you sure you would tell someone to pass up a movie that the great Hayao Miyazaki had his hands in?
        I see what you mean in that we do not have time to watch everything, but if it was from Studio Ghibli, and scripted by Miyazaki, I would not miss it. Regarding not being able to make time for every anime, I think that the concept is especially applicable to anime SERIES. It is hard for me to find a good series that I like (and one of the reasons why I look forward to reading more of your blog).
        Starting a new series may be a leap of faith. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes I feel like I wasted my time. In general I do not like anime series about high school, but every once in a while I find one that I love. Respectfully submitted, Denny.

      • Like I said, I wouldn’t tell someone not to watch it. Meaning I probably wouldn’t recommend it, but I’m not going to stop someone from watching it if they are already planning on it. Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have made some very powerful pieces throughout their career. With that said, I personally would not say that they are all masterpieces, especially of late. However that doesn’t mean that they are not enjoyable or great to watch (that includes repeated watchings). For example, Ponyo is kind of a mess, but I love watching it over and over. I think it is safe to say that if someone is a diligent Studio Ghibli fan that they would most likely enjoy From Up on Poppy Hill. I too enjoyed aspects of it. As a film critic I can’t say that the piece is as strong as other series or movies that I’ve seen.

        I usually just rely on trial and error for finding a series to watch. My dropped list on MyAnimeList is probably several times longer than my completed list. Sometimes it takes a couple of episodes to tell if a series is any good or not. For example, I’m glad I kept with Madoka Magica, because I was close to dropping it, and it is now one of my favorites. The best thing to do would probably be to find a reviewer with similar taste to yours, or someone who works as a good barometer. That way even if you don’t agree with them, you can tell consistently whether or not you’ll most likely like something. I know some fans will read reviewers that they completely disagree with, because if that reviewer hates something, they will most likely love it. Kind of silly, but it can work. That is part of our aim, to be a barometer, since Crystal and I both have similar tastes. The differences in our opinions will hopefully help those who are trying to weed out where we are correct, and where we are just biased. lol

        Ah, no need to be so formal. We’re all fans here. :) Thanks again for sharing your opinions, it has been really insightful. If you don’t mind me asking, what series have you been watching lately? With the end of the semester coming up, I’m hoping to get caught up with shows that have been coming out over the last year.

  1. Pingback: From Up on Poppy Hill/Kokuriko-zaka kara (2011) | timneath

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