From up on Poppy Hill

Rating: 4

I went to see this movie, at the UK preview during the Terracotta Film Festival at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, thinking that it couldn't be worse than Gedo Senki / Tales from Earthsea, the other movie directed by MIYAZAKI Goro (宮崎 吾朗). You can say that I had very low expectations. It turned out that Miyazaki Junior has been learning a lot about directing, and probably also about using the best that Ghibli has to offer. From a quick look at the list of people involved, it seems that Gedo Senki was filmed by the "B team" at Ghibli, while the best people were working on Howl's Moving Castle. Not so with Poppy Hill: it looks better, it flows better, I felt I could care for the characters. Sure, the story is much simpler, and the fact that Miyazaki Senior worked on the screenplay has surely helped. Nonetheless, the result is a very pleasant movie, and has changed my opinion of Goro: I'm now looking forward to his next work.

So, what's the film about? It's about Japan in 1963, about the long-term consequences of the Korean War, about responsibility, community, political engagement, love, family. Every aspect is touched upon with a very light touch, you're never forced to notice. It could just as easily be seen as a standard school-age "girl meets boy" story. But the various aspects of the historic and social context do help shape the story, and make it richer as a result.

The main character, a schoolgirl named Umi, runs a lodging house for women while her mother is away (studying medicine in America). Her father, a military sailor, died during the Korean war. At her school, the boys' clubhouse, an old and dirty building, is going to be demolished and rebuilt. The boys are struggling to convince even their schoolmates, never mind the school administration, that destroying what is, essentially, a historic building, would not be wise, that erasing history will not make your future brighter. They don't have much success until Umi suggests to clean and renovate the place (no, I'm not telling you how it goes, although you can probably guess). In the meantime, she falls in love with Shun, who works for the school's newspaper.

I was impressed by the role of women in this story: even if Japanese society is portrayed as male-centric, we have many independent and strong females. Umi runs the lodging house, not just cleaning and cooking, but also handling the finances. Umi leads the girls and the boys of the school to renovate the clubhouse (and the girls are not the only ones that clean!). Umi's mother and one of the lodgers are medical doctors. On the other hand, due to the historic setting, all school officials are men, and marriage is an unavoidable part of any woman's life.

There are some debatable directorial choices: very animated scenes alternate with mostly static ones; in a couple of cases background songs seem to intrude on the dialogues; some "camera movements" looked jerky. But all in all, Poppy Hill delivers a good story on several levels, and "cleans" Goro's name of the disaster that was Earthsea.

Finally, some comments on the English subtitles: they are pretty accurate, although the lose several subtleties in the way people refer to each other. For example, while the subtitles often use the given name of people, the Japanese soundtrack uses surnames and honorifics. Also, Umi is always called Umi in the subtitles, but her friends call her "Meru" most of the time; this is sort of a pun, since "umi" means "sea", and "Meru" is pronounced like "mer", the French word for "sea" (the connection with French is established in the title, コクリコ坂から: "コクリコ" reads as "Coquelicot", poppy in French).

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DatesCreated: 2012-09-23 19:39:15 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24