“Destroy the old and you destroy the memory of our past.”
This film has surprised me on many levels and has recently become one of my favorites by Studio Ghibili. As many of you might know, this film was directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. Although this means that From Up on Poppy Hill has a different taste from the other Ghibili films, it certainly isn’t a bad one. It holds a simple story encompassing love and history, but has such a charming and enjoyable presentation. This film, set in the 1960s of Japan, is definitely an easy watch and has a very unique setting, despite being very realistic and devoid of magical elements. It is a gentle and feel-good film, but does contain some controversial themes; if you are one who is disturbed by the elements of possible incest, this may not be an easy view.
WARNING: The following content may have some minor spoilers.
The story revolves around the life of a high school girl, named Umi Matsuzaki (voiced by Masami Nagasawa), who lives in the Coquelicot Manor on the hill overseeing the port. As the most responsible member of the household, Umi is in charge of the cooking and cleaning for her siblings, grandmother, and two tenants. Along with caring for her family, Umi is also a normal student and has to keep up with her studies, so she’s a very busy individual to say the least. One day at her high school, the rambunctious boys in a nearby clubhouse, Latin Quarter, decide to make a public statement to prevent the demolition of their beloved meeting spot. The star of this statement is a young boy by the name of Shun Kazama (voiced by Junichi Okada), who grabs everyone’s attention by jumping from the roof of the building to a small pool below. Although Umi is embarrassed to help Shun out of the pool, she later finds that he has been on her mind ever since the event. The following day, Umi’s sister convinces her to come along to Latin Quarter to get Shun’s autograph.
Upon entering the old and dusty building, the girls find many diverse and interesting clubs before reaching Shun’s literary club. There, Umi is convinced by the student council president, Shiro Mizunuma (voiced by Shunsuke Kazama), to lend a hand with transcribing the daily paper. She soon finds herself spending more time with Shun and becomes more involved with preserving the Latin Quarter. Over the weekend, one of the tenants has a farewell party, so Umi decides to invite Shun and Shiro. While Umi gives Shun a tour of the Coquelicot Manor, Shun notices a picture of three men. Umi points out one of them as her father, and this perturbs Shun as his parents have the same photo and have told him his true father was also that man. As he is not completely sure of the situation, Shun decides to keep the information to himself and later speaks to his foster-father to confirm the identity of his true father.
“The sun is very old and our lifespan is short. No discoveries so far!”
Ever since the party, Shun begins to avoid Umi, but still tries to cooperate to save the Latin Quarter. Through Umi’s suggestion, a large group of girls volunteer to help the boys renovate the clubhouse. While the Latin Quarter is being restored over the span of a few days, Shun decides to confront Umi about their true relationship as brother and sister. After Shun leaves with the distressing confession, Umi begins to think about her parents and wishes for the return of her mother. Surprisingly, her mother returns to the manor a few days later and tries to figure out the true situation behind Shun, as she knows that Umi has fallen for him. While Shun and Umi try to play it cool and focus on the Latin Quarter, Umi’s mother meets Shun’s foster-father to find out his actual parents.
“How can we educate the young without protecting our culture?”
After a few days, the restoration of the Latin Quarter is a huge success, but Shiro brings heavy news from the principal, saying that the demolition of the clubhouse is still going through. All of the students begin to express their frustration and decide to send Shiro, Shun, and Umi to Tokyo in order to negotiate with the chairman. Luckily, the chairman takes a liking to Umi and decides to visit the clubhouse. As they return home from Tokyo, Umi confesses her love for Shun and states that her feelings won’t change despite their relationship. Shun also confesses to share the same feelings and bids Umi farewell as she heads home on a train. The next day, the chairman finds the Latin Quarter and its members to be magnificent, so he decides to cancel the demolition. While this is good news, Shun and Umi receive even greater news, as the third man in their father’s photo is at the port and can reveal the truth about Shun’s parents. After a quick rush to the port, the man explains how the two are not related by blood, as Shun’s actual father is the man next to Umi’s father in the photo. With the Latin Quarter saved and the relationship between Umi and Shun revealed to not be incestuous, the movie ends on a happy note.
The presentation of this film is very good, as expected of a Ghibili film. The style of art is much like that of other Studio Ghibili works, possessing some really attractive and colorful backgrounds. The music fits wonderfully with the scenes, ranging from lively and jazzy to calm and sincere. A lot of the lively tunes create a “good ol’ days” feel; while the other songs can be more emotional and further emphasize the mood of the characters. Many of the songs, such as the theme of the Latin Quarter, actually focus on the clarinet, which is very interesting and cool. The voice acting is fitting of the characters in both the Japanese and English versions. I was actually quite impressed with the English dub by GKids. I was surprised by the fact that GKids was in charge of the dub, but I guess them covering it makes sense as Disney probably didn’t want to do it with the controversial theme of incest floating around. The voice actors for the English dub actually fit the characters quite well and expressed good levels of emotions. My trip to the theaters last month was definitely worth it, as the dub was enjoyable.
Overall, From Up on Poppy Hill is a great feel-good movie and should definitely be given a shot. I was rather shocked and disturbed by the elements of possible incest, but continued to watch the film and enjoyed it in the end. It’s a simple story, but is presented in a really charming manner. The combination of the art and music tries to invoke a sense of nostalgia and gives a positive look on how things were like back in those times. The plot, focusing on both Umi’s life and the Latin Quarter, helps create a balance between light-hearted fun and sincere emotions. Although this was an adaptation of a manga, Goro Miyazaki did a great job and I look forward to his future works, whether they are adaptations or originals.