r#127 – from up on poppy hill

Hi, and what is up everybody? Welcome back to #moe404! Tonight’s movie recommendation is this one; Hepburn: Kokuriko-zaka Kara, a 2011 drama movie from Ghibli studio that was directed by Miyazaki Gorou after it was scripted by Miyazaki Hayou and Niwa Keiko. As usual, we will be breaking down a huge amount of details of every show and movie we come across. And just like our statement on our Twitter bio; knowing and understanding anime are two different things.

Tonight, we will be trying to understand all about From Up on Poppy Hill, and what made the movie nominated for almost a dozen prizes and awards. Also once, Miyazaki Gorou could be said as one of the most disappointing anime directors of all time, especially with his sins in the making of Gedo Senki. So in case you’re wondering if his sins have been redeemed by this movie, I encourage you to keep reading my review to find out. So without further ado, let’s start!

starting with the plot concept.

The movie’s set in Yokohama, Japan, prior to the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. It tells the story of Matsuzaki Umi, a high school girl who takes care of her brother and sister in which they all live atop Poppy Hill. She manages the said western-style lodge next to the sea called Coquelicot Manor. When Umi meets Kazama Shun, a member of the school’s newspaper club, they decide to clean up the school’s clubhouse known as the Quartier Latin. However, the chairman of the local high school known as Tokumaru is also a businessman, and with that, he intends to demolish the building for the redevelopment of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Knowing that decision, along with other students, Umi and Shun must persuade him to reconsider.

But fighting for their clubhouse is only what happens on the surface. One step closer, the movie actually tells about a romantic relationship between Umi and Shun, which all started with Umi’s morning routine to raise a set of signal flags with the message, “I pray for safe voyages,” until one day, a poem about the girl who raises a flag every morning is published in the school newspaper.

Fair girl, why do you send your thoughts to the sky?
The wind carries them, aloft to mingle with the crows …
Trimmed with blue, your flags fly again today..,..


From Up on Poppy Hill is based on the 1980 serialized shoujo manga of the same title, illustrated by Takahashi Chizuru and written by Sayama Tetsurou. The movie was a surprise since Ghibli took a step back from the path they had been following a few years back, and instead of releasing a movie about fantasy, they then created a story firmly grounded in the real world and ended up pretty much as a period romance. This is also the second work that appears to be directed by Miyazaki Hayao’s eldest son, Miyazaki Gorou.

In a press interview about three months before the movie release, it was announced that the production was affected by the rolling blackouts imposed after the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Touhoku. In particular, the animation process was forced to proceed in the night to minimize disruptions. It was then revealed that the earthquake and tsunami had forced them to work 20% slower than usual. This slowed down productivity was pretty much caused by- that even though most of the staff was not affected by the disaster, there were several who did go through a period of mental affectedness because of what happened, and this matter took some time to recover from.

But the result, however, the movie turned out remarkable.

On the American review-aggregation website known as Rotten Tomatoes, this movie has received generally positive reviews from many film critics with them sampled 87 reviews and judged 84% of them to be positive with an average rating of 7/10. Even on Metacritic (another popular reviews aggregation website), From Up on Poppy Hill assigns a weighted average score, rated the movie 71 out of 100 based on their 20 critics.

Turned out, Gorou doesn’t seem so bad after all. Having his first creation be hard to accept by the majority of anime connoisseurs … I would say that it was his first try, so it’s kinda relatable in any way possible. Gorou actually graduated with a degree of Landscape Agriculture, he even used to reluctant in getting into anything animation, moreover to directing. So —for me personally— seeing him then finding a way to shine in the industry was quite fascinating to look up to. Because I think that my heart will feel so nostalgic when I watch again this second movie of his, 10 years from now.

So yeah, From Up on Poppy Hill was that touching, especially if the overall score is backed up also with the insert song that’s played in the movie’s crushing ending scene. But we will discuss the musical scores later under the visual and arts section, and for now, let us jump first into the narrative standpoint to see how everything plays out..,..

script and its casts.

Okay hmm … a lot of things can be scored in this department. But the first word that came across my mind as I’m trying to describe this movie is “beautiful,” and I believe many people out there have thought the same word as well. The storytelling is so beautiful, to the point where Madman Entertainment (the movie’s distributor) didn’t care at all to clearly reveal the movie’s plot twist in its own movie trailer. Don’t believe me? Well, you can watch the trailer above once again, and you’ll understand.

This led to Mark Schilling, an American film critic for the Japan Times (Japanese largest and oldest English language daily newspaper) describing the movie as a pure-hearted and melodramatic youth film, in order to overcome the said too harsh criticism of the reviewers that judged the story as predictable and say that the direction is lacking inspiration. And yeah, “pure-hearted” was also what I think about when I watch the movie; that I don’t really care how predictable the movie’s plot concept is, because the story itself has been told in such beautiful manner.

At its heart, From Up on Poppy Hill is a slice of life. It took off the background setting prior to the Tokyo Olympics, it caches the nation in a mood of renewal, coming out of the post-war reconstruction even though some people were still burdened by the aftermath. The Second World War is what the background story is built on, more precisely when Japan was defeated at the start of the Korean War, when Japanese vessels played a significant role to return repatriates to their homeland, together with the Japanese crews who were pressed into service by the US military to carry forces and supplies to Korea.

In the movie, Umi’s father was killed when his supply ship was sunk by mines in the Korean War, and Shun’s biological father died aboard a repatriation vessel after the end of the Second World War. Anyhow … it’s a war, and there was always nothing but tragedy coming out from it. So, considering that the Tokyo Olympics was a great symbol of the new Japan back then, I could imagine many Japanese viewers feeling so nostalgic when they watch From Up on Poppy Hill. Even for me, someone who doesn’t have anything to do with war, I could see this movie as something that would remind me of one.

“It’s like some cheap melodrama.”

— Kazama Shun.

But let us come back to the main theme of the movie, and that is romance. Because to be noted; the war itself isn’t something that stands out throughout the movie, it’s just that the movie took off with this historical conception as its background setting. And so, what lies ahead is of course, the relationship between Matsuzaki Umi and Kazama Shun.

Their relationship begins and develops over the matter of the school clubhouse, this is when the announcement comes that the clubhouse is to be demolished in favour of a new building. It crystallizes the central debate of the film; the conflict between the past and the present. This is also probably the way of Ghibli and Gorou representing the real-life escalating increase in student activism and campus revolts in Japan, thanks to the ending era of the Second World War.

On the closer look, however, we’re faced with two individuals; one who’s already familiar with all things clubhouse, and another who’s just interested in these extra-curricular activities at her school. Before the two meet, just like the majority of the students of their school, Umi doesn’t even care about the old clubhouse that is set to be demolished. But then a member of the school newspaper named Shun finally dares to introduce himself to Umi in a way that no one would do, and even though Umi thinks that it’s so childish at first, in the end she has no choice but to get closer to him as her sister pushes her to learn more about him.

Now, that I think about the main theme of this movie, the romance between Umi and Shun is not the same as how our generation depicts a romance; it’s quite different and I would say, the romance here is more traditional. Here’s what I mean … remember the harbinger of a princess every time there’s a prince asking her for a dance? Yes, that exact feeling that’s coming from that exact gesture, is how romance depicted in this movie. I don’t really know, maybe this is how romance is portrayed inside our parents’ head. It’s old school and charming; this is when the boy is still truly a gentleman, and the girl is still definitely a lady.

And I think this is what makes their romance so enjoyable to watch; that even though they’re still in high school, Umi and Shun are very mature to the point where the words “I love you” doesn’t necessarily play out in telling the narrative that they love each other. There’s no coercion between them, and even after a conflict comes onto the surface of their relationship, you can see how Shun tries to wait until the right time and try not to hurt Umi’s feelings in telling the truth about their parents.

It’s beautiful, and that’s it.

Another plus point goes to one of the amazing things that happened to the movie; how it pushes the viewers to understand every perspective of the character, or at least two of our main characters. And when they are paired with the rather simple story narrative, it goes along the way in building up a very down to earth dramatic piece —one could say, although also “melodrama,” another would say. Personally, I feel like a ‘cheap’ way of storytelling like this; one that doesn’t necessarily grant and full of spectacles, always leaves a deeper cut in my heart when it’s done right. And yeah, this movie has been done pretty darn right.

The script itself was written by the father of anime, the masterful storyteller, and the greatest animation director … Miyazaki Hayou. And as you’ve guessed it, everything is solid; from the characters to the narrative standpoint, everything is just so charming and engaging. It focuses on how Umi and Shun get to know one another in a somewhat complex manner. You can come to understand Umi’s life from the first minute you’re diving into the movie, and also Shun’s life a bit as we’re watching the conversation between him and his adoptive father, one day as he’s dropped off by their tugboat.

Overall, all the characters here are pretty simple and right off the bat, we’re introduced to the characters that are already solid; very understanding and honest to themselves. So from there, what else to be explored and developed more to add meanings to the story, is the stuff around them such as the circumstances of their parents that happens to become a burden to their relationship. The dilemma, however, doesn’t really change the direction and personality of the characters, and instead, what you can learn is how they maintain their relationship and deal with that dilemma at the same time. Is this a good thing or a bad thing … well, it is still a good thing for me, but you definitely should watch the movie first before you can judge.

visual and arts.

I believe that music is the highest score of the movie, but unfortunately, not everything is great in this department too. One thing in particular that I would change if I could —even though this is a little bit too nitpicking— is the list of jazz tracks that are played throughout the movie. Even though not all of the tracks are jazzy, there’s a huge amount of them in the background of the movie. Don’t be mistaken tho, I’m not spreading hate to the world of jazz, but the problem is that I couldn’t see any scene or sequence in the movie that can be categorized as jazzy.

From Up on Poppy Hill takes place in the rural side of Japan; it’s close to the beach and it seems so fun to live there, but when the movie visits the traditional market of the city, or when we watch the top of people houses while we ride a train … it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t watching a ‘modern’ movie. There’s no ballroom or people dancing, and instead, the movie filled with dust, green, boats and ocean. So for a movie like this, I think jazz soundtrack isn’t the best music genre to go hand in hand.

But nonetheless, thanks to Takabe Satoshi, music is one department that has the highest score of them all. A few tracks also add the number of evidence that the movie takes place in the 60s, such as the song “Sukiyaki (Ue o Muite Arukou)” that plays in the background of the movie twice, as it was actually released in 1961. But my favourite is of course, “Sayonara no Natsu ~Kokurikozaka Kara~” which performed by Teshima Aoi, which played at the end of the movie, just right before the credit is rolling.

By the way, just for your information; there are a few scenes that were originally in silence in the Japanese dub, that then have an English voice over it. Most of the lines are merely the characters reading out the story narrative to help with areas that are heavy in subtitles, but one major point to make note is that the English dub has an extra narration at the beginning of the movie which isn’t presented in the original Japanese version. So yeah, you might want to aim for the dubbed version if you interested about this monologue.

Moving on to the other side of the movie production, the animation department is directed by Miyazaki Gorou, and it was equally solid as the writing of his father. Even at one point of the movie, we visit the 1960s post-war Yokohama, and we can watch the sequence where the scenery presents the beautiful, very detailed pieces together with a little bit of film grain, and alive backgrounds to walk through. There are also so many background objects and sceneries that seem watercoloured made, and they are just beautiful. The characters are also designed by the veteran animator of studio Ghibli, Kondou Katsuya, which you can score his works on the characters of Princess Mononoke. There is a lot of good decisions in the making of this movie, that’s for sure.

From Up on Poppy Hill is another work of Studio Ghibli that’s been plugged heavily as their best hand-drawn animation movie. Although for me personally, this is not their best work yet. But this doesn’t mean that the visual is bad, because it’s actually really good. Of course, I believe that they also used 3D/CGI animation on heavy movements such as the moving cruise ships and ocean waves, but all the pieces are made to fit with the portion of their hand-drawn, and at no point did they look out of place. Just like any other movies from Ghibli, there is a lot of attention to detail here. Conclusion; this is a very good handling from the visual standpoint *good job, Gorou!

closing – nesha’s final verdict.

So yeah, in the end, there are no creative forces behind the making of this movie, but despite their story that’s quite realistic and down to earth, the world of Umi and Shun is definitely a different place. They both come from a different era, and I think that the end era of the Second World War really defines who they —and their parents— are. I think the ‘modern romance’ is a bit more flashed and too full of style … so for me, it’s quite sentimental to watch a romance movie like this; a relationship that is more personal but at the same time, with less of selfishness displayed by each of the characters.

You know what? I think this is one of the best romance stories that’s followed by the more direct concept and honest sincerity to the point where Umi and Shun could behave so mature despite their age. Because in the end, I think their interaction is the major reason why I was paying interest in the movie as much.

“Destroy the old, and you destroy our memory of the past … there is no future for people who worship the future and forget the past.”

— Shun.

From Up on Poppy Hill has received positive reviews from most movie critics, and grossed over $61 million worldwide. Especially for you who’s bored with the exaggerated love story that generally exists in the modern romance anime, this movie may be a little bit refreshing. This is an innocent love story, but with less selfishness … something that I think could only be written and done right by the Miyazakis. In the end, this review has come into a full circle, and my final verdict is exactly the word that I have said a few times by now; this is a BEAUTIFUL love story.

People’s experience in watching this movie might vary, but for me, I would rate From Up on Poppy Hill an 8.5 out of 10!

additional pieces of information.

external links: official siteAllcinemaANNMedia Art DBWiki (en)AnimeNfoAnison, and MAL

Across the shining sea, a ship disappears in the sunlight …
Leaves behind the steam of good-bye
Just if I went down that loose hill,
Would I meet the summer coloured wind?

My love is a melody which I sing high and low …
My love is a seagull that soars and swoops
Just if I tried to call out to you at twilight,
I wonder if I’d encounter the gentle you..???

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All right, thank you guys so much for reading another anime review of mine. Like this post if you think it’s useful, follow #moe404 (if you haven’t) to receive weekly anime review and recommendation, and comment what you think about this movie down below. And as usual, keep watching anime, and I’ll see you guys again next week! Bai-bai now~

© written by nesha5971
proofreaded by sliceofalfredo

17 responses to “r#127 – from up on poppy hill

  1. I really enjoyed Up on Poppy Hill. Shun and Umi relationship does feel very mature. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a reflection of a time period or because they were aiming for a more realistic approach. Either way, it was done so well.

  2. I haven’t seen this one years, but I do feel it would benefit more from a rewatch. I would be able have a greater appreciation of it themes than I did when I first saw it. What kept me engaged were also the characters. They were easy to latch on too. The story didn’t wow me, but it never bored me either. I do prefer Ghibli make a bit more fantasy type movies, but when they also make just as good dramatic movies I can’t complain much about that.

    • I guess Ghibli was trying to reach the wider audience by releasing this movie? or maybe, that the passion that Gorou has actually isn’t in fantasy and instead, anything that’s grounded in reality. I dunno, good thing that this movie took off well tho

  3. That was a good review. I didn’t think it was the best Ghibli movie, but certainly was a decent one to watch and I wouldn’t mind re-watching it again. Looks like Goro redeemed himself with this film after Earthsea came out.

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