From Up on Poppy Hill (U)
Dir. Goro Miyazaki, JAP, 91mins, 2013
Having fumbled the first attempt at inheriting his fathers Disney usurping magic touch with the incomprehensible; Tales from Earthsea (2006), Goro Miyazaki once again takes the reigns from the legendary Hayao, he having made the sublime Arriety in the interim, to tell this delightful tale about a group of politically minded teens in 60’s Tokyo.
Set during the months leading up to the 1964 Olympics, Poppy Hill is where we find the school clubhouse, a building that has a scheduled date with demolition wrecking ball. Joining forces to orchestrate the movement to prevent this are Masami, a free thinking young girl, one who raises a series of flags on a daily basis for her absent father, in the hope that he will one day return from the sea, and Shun, a popular, instinctive young man, who commands respect from his peers and elders for his outspoken, unrestrained approach to life. As their burgeoning relationship develops, they begin to realise that their fate is entwined in a way that will have ramifications on every aspect of their futures.
Deciding to eschew the fantastical elements inherent with the Ghibli name, Poppy Hill is no less magical because of it. The characters are as beautifully rendered as the stimulating visuals, once again the astounding backgrounds are so pretty your eyes will drown in them, and the story is so tenderly measured, with plenty of mature narrative beats amongst the chaos of the Poppy Hill campus. The clubhouse also bears a striking resemblance to the frenzied splendour of the bath house from Spirited Away.
There are layers of political subtext to found beneath the animated cells – a woman in the workforce has a prominent part to play – and although unseen, the theme of war reverberating through generations of families really makes an impression. Throw in some intellectual comedy pushed into the foreground – the frat house exchanges between an alchemist and an existentialist are particularly funny – and it’s clear that Poppy Hill isn’t your standard animated fare.
But at the core this is a tale of two star-crossed kids, and Hayao’s script sends them and the audience on a rather unexpected journey. There is a hilarious charm to their initial meeting, flecked with the kind of humour associated more with a US college movie, and the unfolding friendship is so believable that it’s not hard to root for them, as a couple, and as they try to stop the wrecking ball. The fact that the mid-movie twist has such an impact is largely down to the strength of character.
It might be one of Ghibli’s minor releases, accompanied with less fanfare, but the impact of the story is as heartfelt as any of their classics. Get on your bike and watch it.