Last Level Press

Film Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

Reviewer: Olen Bjorgo

Studio Ghibli’s latest film, From Up on Poppy Hill, is the story of Umi Matsuzaki, a young teenage girl living in her family’s boarding house in 1963 Yokohama, and her daily life tending to not only the boarders but also being a high school student. This routine is altered when she reads a poem about the signal flags she raises every morning and leads her to meet Shun Kazama, a member of the school newspaper. From there, it becomes a budding romance and a “save the clubhouse!” type of story. In other words, it’s a tender, melodramatic, almost slice-of-life type of movie, and I absolutely loved it.

It may go without saying, but the film, as expected by its high quality studio, is an absolute sight to behold. However, you shouldn’t go seeing this film with expectations of fantastic flying machines or unique looking locales as you might see in other films produced by the studio. Rather, it’s probably one of the most down-to-earth and realistic settings for a Ghibli film that is in the same vein as Porco Rosso or Only Yesterday, in that while you not only know the where but also the when, and your mind doesn’t really wonder too much from that. It’s very much a period piece. Perhaps the most fantastic and surreal place in the film would be the Latin Quarter, the school’s clubhouse that houses many of the boy-dominated clubs. It’s cramped, old, dusty, and yet it has so much character and looks bigger on the inside.

As it is an animated film, and a foreign one at that, the dubbing is something of a contention point for people. Personally, I found the English dub for the characters to be appropriate and enjoyable. There were maybe one or two characters who sounded a bit strange in an “I didn’t expect that voice from that body” sort of way, but not only were they minimal, they also didn’t detract from the rest of the cast. As such, the performances overall were superb, and the background dialogue had some funny one-liners. The soundtrack is also very moving and endearing; much of it is very lighthearted and sounds nostalgic, a sentiment that should come across in a film taking place fifty years ago.

The story, as I previously stated, is slow, tender, and feels nostalgic. There is no big bad guy, and the conflict that does exist is more symbolic of the larger theme of modernity and the march of progress. The film takes place one year before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, almost twenty years after World War II, and Japan had to prove to the world that it was capable of being a modern nation. The brief visit to the very urban Tokyo represents a contrast to the more traditional looking fishing port of Yokohama that is having its own trouble with progress: there is a need to keep a sense of the past around rather than throwing it away in the name of modernity. Because this is a film that involves high school, there is the teenage love and melodrama that comes with it; thankfully it’s not something that feels unbearable or unnecessary. Beyond thematic elements, the pacing is much better than Goro Miyazaki’s first foray in the director’s seat and, as such, should be commended for his improvement. It’s my hope that as he gains more experience as a director, and with film making overall, he shall make a name for himself and stand alongside his father, the esteemed Hayao Miyazaki.

As someone who has enjoyed Studio Ghibli movies for well over a decade, I can state that I absolutely enjoyed the film, and would undoubtedly recommend it to any lover of quality animation. While previous Ghibli films like Ponyo and The Secret World of Arrietty were very much the sort of films that children and parents could enjoy watching together, From Up on Poppy Hill is probably one that young children might not find much enjoyment with due to the story. It’s not what I would call thoughtful or deep, but there are some aspects that would leave children bored or asking questions: it’s not an eye-catching spectacle. It’s probably for this reason that there hasn’t been much advertisement, and why it had a limited release in North America. Regardless, it’s a film that is still worth a watch even if it’s a bit on the predictable and safe side.

Rating: 7.4

Visuals: 9
Audio: 7
Narrative: 6
Acting: 7
Atmosphere & Experience: 8

  Director: Goro Miyazaki

  Producer: Toshio Suzuki

  Studio: Studio Ghibli

  Release Date (U.S.):  March 15, 2013

  Release Date (U.K.):  Jan 11, 2012

  Release Date (JP):  Jul 16, 2011

Final Verdict:


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