From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka Kara)

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka Kara) 2011

I came quite late to Studio Ghibli – my first experience being Spirited Away, and only then on DVD a couple of years after the dub was released – and so when From Up on Poppy Hill was screened at a festival back in 2013, I jumped at the chance to see a Ghibli release in a cinema. (Previously, the only Ghibli film I’d only seen at a movie theatre was Ponyo, which remains my least favourite Miyazaki film.)

And so I remember being keen to enjoy From Up on Poppy Hill and maybe even a bit nervous, due to the mixed reception Goro Miyazaki’s last film received.

But for me, those fears proved to be unfounded because I definitely enjoyed the experience.

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From Up on Poppy Hill is a coming of age story set in post war Japan (in the Port of Yokohama). The animation is top notch as to be expected, with the colouring beautiful as ever and as is fairly often the case with Ghibli releases, the film is an adaptation of an existing manga. It’s probably quite faithful, but I can’t tell of course – though if it’s of the quality that Howl’s Moving Castle was, then it’s probably a great adaptation.

In any event, I don’t think you’d need to have read the original to enjoy this if you like the genre. It features an almost typical romantic plot and a good deal of humour, along with what is perhaps its strongest feature: a keen sense of nostalgia (which is aesthetic for me of course).

Being a period piece, From Up on Poppy Hill has a focus on the cultural details and day to day living, revealed via the wonderful attention to detail that I love about Ghibli films.

Part of this is the use of pop songs from the era, one from 1963 (which I hadn’t realised was also a number single in the US at the time) is used to great effect in the movie. It’s by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto, and it’s known as ‘Sukiyaki’ – you can read about it here and hear it below:

For me, it’s hard to remove some of the production context – I think there was one part of me that enjoyed the film in part because it felt stronger than Goro’s Tales of Earthsea adaptation but also because Hayao’s involvement suggests that maybe the father and son relationship was in a better place back then? Maybe I just want it to be so, but I hope it was and still is.

Definitely recommended if you’ve never seen this Ghibli film or if you like the time period and the Romance genre.

4 Stars

Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki)

As much as I enjoyed many things about Tales From Earthsea when I first saw it back in 2007, it took me six years or so to watch it again.

I put it off a few times (though I’m curious to watch it again now, which oddly enough – is about six years later once more!) Even though I remember enjoying the usual beautiful Ghibli colours, especially in Hort Town, which is wonderful, I didn’t rush back.

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Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki)
2006

However, I also loved Cob, both the way he was animated (in each stage of his character development) and the fantastic performance by Willem Dafoe.

Almost as much as this, I enjoyed Sparrowhawk’s calm manner and the scenes at the farm, but in the end, this was a film that never quite came together for me. I guess that’s clear by the way I’m once again highlighting disparate, enjoyable elements rather than rhapsodising over the whole, right?

And that reason was one of the protagonists, Arren.

Unfortunately, the film introduces him in a manner which ensures he is a completely unsympathetic character. From that point on (and this is very early in the film) I didn’t care about him as I should have – mostly because any motivation for his actions were not addressed until late in the film, and by then it was almost a moot point. I’d already made up my mind about him.

Which is a shame, because I understand that the direction of the film was fraught with tension, which doubtless contributed in some way to the issues as I see them. And it’s heartbreaking that Goro’s first film directing for Ghibli, wasn’t as strong as his follow up From Up on Poppy Hill (which I loved), and because it was sad to see a son strive and perhaps fail to meet his father’s expectations.

And for those curious about how the author of the Earthsea books, Ursula K. Le Guin, felt upon seeing the film – here is an interesting read. I feel like an author responding to criticism/adaptation of their own work is often risky, but she is of course both eloquent and respectful.

So, to sum up I guess – for me, an almost tragically flawed film with some wonderful elements.

3 Stars

(Still hoping to watch this again and then update this review)