Starring: Masami Nagasawa, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita
Director: Gorô Miyazaki
Running Time: 91 mins
From Up On Poppy Hill is a Japanese film about a group of Yokohama schoolkids who look to save their historic clubhouse from demolition in the lead up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Whilst retaining the trademark relaxing tone of so many Studio Ghibli movies, From Up On Poppy Hill takes a slightly different direction. It’s a more mature, controlled and heartfelt tribute to the power of youth and freedom, and although it doesn’t always make for the most compelling watching, I was still impressed by its depth.
I’m not saying that other Studio Ghibli movies aren’t mature or heartfelt, nothing could be further from the truth, but what I want to make clear is that this is mature in a more outright way. There’s no fantasy element to it, the romance, whilst pleasant, doesn’t take centre stage, and so it deals more directly with family and local drama than any other film from the studio.
That was the best thing about the film by far. I was impressed by the way that it handled a story that isn’t of great worldwide consequence in a dramatic and interesting manner. It’s all about the relationship between a teenage boy and girl, and the students’ efforts to save their beloved clubhouse in the face of corporate greed and rapid modernisation in Japan during the 1960s, and because that was dealt with in both a calm and mature way, I was able to care more about the events of the story.
Also, as you’d expect with Studio Ghibli, the animation is exquisite. Given the suburban setting of the story, it’s not always the most dazzling, but it fits in perfectly with the controlled and calm tone of the film, and reinforces it fantastically.
However, I wasn’t always fully engrossed by From Up On Poppy Hill. Whilst I was impressed by and appreciated the mature tone that it struck, there were moments where I could have gone for a little bit more high drama. That’s not a general characteristic of Studio Ghibli’s films, and it’s almost always for the better, but there are moments here that feel like they’ve not been as emphasised as they should be, often costing emotional power that would have otherwise made this a great film.
Overall, I liked From Up On Poppy Hill. It’s nice and calm, but has a mature and assured message and tone as well. However, that lack of emotional drama just frustrated me at times, because I felt like the film was missing an opportunity to make a really engrossing and compelling tale, and that’s why I’m giving a 7.1.