Monday, 13 January 2014

From Up On Poppy Hill

As a long time Studio Ghibli fan, I await their new releases with a mixture of excitement and nail-biting anticipation. Many of their films are a real delight to watch; Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away are treats for both the eyes and the ears. A few, however, don't quite live up to the high standards you come to place on them; Only Yesterday springs to mind. Naturally my expectations were sky high. Not even seeing that it's directed by Goro Miyazaki dampened my spirits; due to the fact that it's scripted by Hayao Miyazaki, so how does it fare?

Set in 1960's Yokohama, From Up On Poppy Hill tells the story of Umi and Shun. Umi is a school girl forced to take care of her ungrateful siblings and a couple of lodgers due to her father's disappearance at sea and the fact that her mother's away in America. Umi gets involved with rebellious Shun, setting off the High School Romance Alert. Shun runs the school newspaper, which along with various other clubs, is run from a building known as the Latin Quarter.

Though the film focuses heavily on Umi and Shun's efforts to save the Latin Quarter from it's planned demolition, the real meat of the story is their developing romance. Without giving too much away, it takes a couple of unexpected twists and turns and it was refreshing to find out that the High School Romance plotline wasn't as cliché as it at first appeared to be. If it wasn't for this there wouldn't be much to make the story anything worth shouting about. 

The film has all the stunning animation and the stand-out soundtrack we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli and the English dub is graced with a star-studded cast including Christina Hendricks and Anton Yelchin. Despite all this, Poppy Hill sadly lacks some of the magic that makes the studio's greatest films so special; perhaps it’s the lack of magic in a literal sense?  The use of magic in Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away allowed the artists to create whole new worlds limited only by their imagination, making these films the visual spectacles that they are. Likewise the existence of spirits in My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke lead to the creation of arguably Ghibli's most memorable characters.

In a story like From Up On Poppy Hill there is only so much you can do as an artist. The film has its share of beautiful landscapes, seascapes and skies and when Umi cooks tempura it's lovingly rendered using Ghibli's famous mixture of hand-drawing and CGI. But despite the best rendered food I've seen in an animation there's just no scope here for the breath-taking creatures or the fantastical characters that we adore. I guess I'll just go back to waiting for The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki's final offering prior to his retirement, *tear*.

A good film in its own right but certainly not one of Ghibli's best, 7/10.

Ant Silvers

From Up On Poppy Hill at CeX

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