The animated movie is released in UK cinemas today, and if you’re expecting the kind of journey into a world of fantasy that we’ve come to expect from the renowned animation house, then you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.
Set in 1963, the film is a beautiful, historically-accurate portrait of a school in Yokohama, Japan, during the run-up to the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Gor? Miyazaki, son of the great Hayao Miyazaki, made his directorial debut back in 2006 with Tales from Earthsea, a film that features dragons and magic, and the fantastical elements of his debut would understandably lead one to think that his sophomore feature might tread further in that direction.
But what From Up on Poppy Hill really brings to the big screen is a beautiful love story, tenderly told, showing the blossoming of emotions between its teenage leading characters, Umi and Shun.
The two have grown up in post-War Japan, at a time when the country’s economy had been rapidly growing. With the Olympics just a year away, their hometown of Yokohama is undergoing a vast change in scenery to make way for the sporting events, and their school’s clubhouse, beloved to its largely-male inhabitants, is about to be torn down.
It comes as no surprise that the artwork in the movie is beautiful, and painstakingly drawn and coloured. But it is still worth highlighting, particularly considering that so few movies animated like this reach our shores, much less our cinemas.
Studio Ghibli are undeniably the first animation house that comes to mind when thinking beyond the shores of America, and with good reason. They are the only people beyond non-English-speaking shores to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away back in 2002. And from there, history really speaks for itself.
With a number of accolades already under its belt, including Animation of the Year at the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars, From Up on Poppy Hill has already proven itself on both sides of the Pacific. All that remains is for our patiently waiting audience to finally discover its beauty.
Delving into elements as universal as young love – in fact, first love – and as specific as growing up in post-War Japan and living with the consequences of the droppings of the atomic bomb, Miyazaki returns with a quiet yet powerful drama that truly deserves to be sought out this weekend, and in the coming weeks.
As you perhaps might expect, the film will likely be a little more difficult to track down than your average blockbuster, so to give you a helping hand, you can find a list of cinemas screening From Up on Poppy Hill on Studio Ghibli’s UK Facebook. The Picturehouse cinemas should be playing the dubbed version of the movie in the afternoons, and the subbed version after 5pm every day, so the choice is in your hands.
Studio Ghibli are currently back in Japanese cinemas, having just released the elder Miyazaki’s anticipated new movie, Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises). The film – Miyazaki’s first since 2008’s Ponyo – has recently been selected to have its European premiere at the Venice Film Festival in a few weeks’ time, screening In Competition. And with any luck, we won’t have quite as long a wait before it arrives in cinemas on our shores, hopefully with an appearance at the 57th BFI London Film Festival this October in the meantime.