Anime: Kokurikozaka Kara

The latest movie from Studio Ghibli is more commonly known by its English name ‘From up on Poppy Hill’. I have been looking forward to it ever since it came out and now that it has been subbed, it was with much joy that I finally watched it. There are two comparisons the movie draws to mind. The first would have to be Whisper of the heart because the stories are similar in how they concentrate more on the romance between boy and girl and also how there was no supernatural or magical or fantastical story line. Also I couldn’t help but think that Shun is the main character of Poppy Hill looked so similar to Seiji who was the main character of whisper of the heart. The second comparison was to Sakamichi no Apollon and this is purely because I had recently watched the series and they are both set in the same time period.

Before continuing further with the review, I have to warn that as much as I usually keep my reviews spoiler free, this will contain spoilers. So if you don’t want to know what happens in the movie, just stop reading. Right now.

I was very torn when giving the movie a score on MAL. Studio Ghibli has produced many of my favourite films and I have such high expectations of every movie it creates. I have loved their more fantasy based stories and I love their more slice of life and dramatic stories as well. From up on poppy hill definitely falls into the latter category but the thing that really irked me was the problem in the relationship between the two main characters. I just didn’t like the fact that they used the brother-sister cliché. It’s been over done in many a korean and japanese drama and to see it appear here of all places just killed me in so many ways. And it got worst, when the two of them professed their love for each other despite the possibility (at the time certainty) of being siblings that just made me really sad. I was hoping for something else entirely. I was hoping for a new way to solve the problem, on that didn’t entail them committing incest.   One that was actually well though out and mature and different from every other drama we’ve seen. So yes, I am very disappointed with the film. But if I just put these two things aside, the rest of the film was brilliant.

Let me start with the story that complements the romance. Japan was in a time where change was happening. Everything old was being done away with and new things were being built and embraced. And so we are introduced to an old clubhouse that is to be demolished and the students who are campaigning to save it. I wish that this had been the main story line rather than a complement to the main romance because it was really exciting to watch. Saving something old that the students loved and the arguments put forth through out the show was really good and I think it really reflects the time period so well. It shows us what Japan as a country was going through at the time and to watch the students going about saving that clubhouse together, changing people’s mindsets and their determination as well perseverance was breathtaking. It was a theme that isn’t explored enough in other anime. In Sakamichi no Apollon it was touch and go and only seen from the college side of things.  But this gave us a smaller glimpse but one with much more depth and I really enjoyed it.

As for the characters, I will admit that the back story was interesting. It was convoluted but I’m sure such things really did happen at that time. Umi’s love for her father also really shone through and I must say that this is one of the few Studio Ghibli stories that place such an emphasis on parents. A lot of the other films have much more independent characters. That is not to say that Umi isn’t independent, she is, but she does many things for her family rather than for herself. Shun on the other hand, doesn’t really come across as a strong male lead, but the budding romance between the two of them is really well done. It was subtle and I guess it could be slow for a lot of people, but I thought it was really sweet. The turning point in their relationship was really shown in the scene as well as through the music. Both characters are very defined by their past and this is very obvious throughout the film. The only problem is that they don’t seem to have a future. Sure they were both working very hard to save the club house but once that was out of the way, there’s nothing else to make us relate them. Sure Shun is very passionate and Umi is very reliable, but I think the romance portion of the show was too emphasised. Whisper of the heart had the characters ambitions and dreams to really work with and create a future for the characters in our imagination. uFrom p on poppy hill doesn’t do that, it just gave us a solution to the problem and that was the end. I will admit I was crying throughout the last quarter of the film, just because it was a really sad and sweet story, but there was no satisfaction at the end of film.

The music for this movie was perfect. I know that a lot of people don’t seem to like it, but I though it was different from the all the usual instrumental epic background music that we are used to. Different, very apt for each scene that played and really added to the film. If it had been the usual instrumental kind of music, I think the movie would have lost a lot of its exuberance and youthfulness. The choruses especially were a good addition. It gave the sense of how young they are, that they can stand up for what they believe. They can embrace change as well as keep traditions alive.

From up on poppy hill isn’t one of the best Studio Ghibli films, but it still has a story to tell. A story of change and when to embrace it and when not to. It’s worth a watch and some will love it, some will hate it, but that’s really for you to decide. There was one part of the show that I think adds a layer of meaning that everyone (or nearly everyone misses). And that is the flags, unless you know how to read the signals, you probably won’t understand what Umi is saying. Apparently the flags she hoists every morning means “I pray for safe voyages” although I don’t know what Shun’s answers mean. If anyone can enlighten me on what the different flags mean, I will be grateful!


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