director Gorō Miyazaki
The era of Hayao Miyazaki is winding down and we are left with the last couple of films that he is saying that he will work on. His final film as director (and perhaps at all) is The Wind Rises (2013), which opened in Japan this past summer and will come to the states eventually. In the mean time, we’ve have From Up on Poppy Hill, which Miyazaki co-wrote, adapted from a Japanese comic, and directed by Miyazaki’s son, Gorō, who had previously directed Tales from Earthsea (2006).
The last Miyazaki film to hit the States was The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), which was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi but was co-written by Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa. Niwa also shared a co-screenwriting credit here.
Arrietty felt like a pretty good Miyazaki film, featuring elements of fantasy within the world of the small “borrowers” (It was adapted from the children’s book The Borrowers by Mary Norton). From Up on Poppy Hill diverges from most of Miyazki’s work in that it cleaves much closer, if not entirely, to naturalism, with no elements of fantasy at all. Maybe it shares more with the 1995 film Whisper of the Heart, which was written but not directed by Miyazaki (which I’ve only seen once on an untranslated DVD), which as I recall featured no magical beings or events either.
From Up on Poppy Hill is set in 1963 in Yokohama, centering around a girl, Umi, who works and lives in her grandmother’s boarding house (on “Poppy Hill”) and gets caught up in the attempts to save an old building that has been used by high school boys as their “clubhouse”, a huge, derelict home to all school clubs. Her romantic interest in one of the boys, Shun, draws her in and sets in motion the other main narrative component, a secret of their somewhat connected childhoods.
The world of the film is mostly but not entirely naturalistic (as I understand). Yokohama isn’t recreated as it was but in a more fantastic way. But the era of 1960’s Japan, prepping for the coming Olympics, concerned with its perception as a “modern” democracy challenges some of the older qualities of Japanese culture and identity. It’s less WWII than the Korean War that looms over the lives of the characters here. Both Umi and Shun have lost their fathers in the War. It is a wistful, romantacised portrait of an innocent, peaceful time, of first loves, and coming of age. It’s very gentle and not particularly dramatic.
Lacking the magic of Miyazaki’s other films, literally, effects the magic of the film itself. It’s beautifully rendered as most Studio Ghibli films are, has its strong female protagonist, its interest in more traditional Japanese culture. And it’s enjoyable.
I watched it with Clara (Felix had something else going on), and we both enjoyed it. But Clara was quick to say that My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is still her favorite.
We will look forward to The Wind Rises. At the time, we had thought that Ponyo (2008) was to be Miyazaki’s last film. A fine film with which to punctuate his amazing career. So, we are lucky to have more.