It’s 1963 in the picturesque seaside town of Yokahama, Japan. Japan is in the process of trying to move forward from the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In the midst of struggling between honoring the past and looking towards the future, Umi Matsuzaki, an ambitious high school girl, strives to land somewhere in between these two conflicting mindsets by maintaining Japanese tradition within her household while trying to act upon a more modern mentality in her academic life.
In the beautifully animated film, “From Up on Poppy Hill,” Hayao Miyazaki succeeds again through his distinct ability to weave together a variety of issues as well as stories amongst the leading characters under a common theme that accurately reflects the multifaceted condition of the depicted era.
On a cliff overlooking the Port of Yokohama, Umi dutifully raises the flags on the flagpole outside her house that signify an homage to her father, who was a captain in the Korean War. With her mother away as a traveling professor, Umi spends her time holding down the fort at the boarding house she calls home and assists in the movement to save the Latin Quartier, a historic building that houses a variety of clubs from her high school.
Here, she meets the newspaper editor and Latin Quartier campaign advocate, Shun Kazama. Together, they embark on a campaign that symbolizes a generation that was torn between moving on from the aftermath of wartime and honoring their past. Their shared passions and uncannily connected pasts spark a romance that can survive the political calamity and soap opera worthy drama that seems to surround them.
“From Up on Poppy Hill” follows Miyazaki’s ingenious formula for producing films that are more aptly described as cinematic adventures. Typically in Miyazaki movies, the audience is captivated in about three of the five senses.
Visually, the backgrounds are vibrantly painted, sketched and stay true to the time period (for those who have ever traveled in Tokyo, the Old Tokyo Station is presented spic-and-span, but is still undoubtedly recognizable as the historic landmark that exists today).
Audibly, the soundtrack mainly features a piano that is part jazz, part blues with a hint of Motown and occasional vocals. The music in “From Up on Poppy Hill” isn’t as epic as the films scored by Joe Hisaishi (“Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away”), but it is playful, upbeat and keeps with the overall tone of the movie.
In terms of taste, Miyazaki is somehow able to make animated tempura (fried shrimp), croquettes (potatoe patties) and various authentic Japanese dishes look just as, if not even more, mouthwatering as the real thing.
“From Up on Poppy Hill” utilizes these techniques to allow the audience to feel as if they are vicariously experiencing this turning point in Japanese history with Umi, which is not only done effectively but also incredibly commendably in an animated film.
Recommended for fans or newcomers to Miyazaki, this film is sure to please.