Stars: Masami Nasagawa, Jun’ichi Okada
Running time: 91mins
The lowdown: After the misfire of 2006’s Tales from Earthsea, Goro Miyazaki has more success with his sophomoric directorial outing. Adapted from a popular girl’s comic, it’s a gentle tale of high school romance and youthful exuberance set against the upcoming 1964 Olympics. A second tier Studio Ghibli offering, but with its pleasantly relaxed tempo and gorgeous pastel animation it sits comfortably alongside the animation house’s finer movies.
The full verdict: Much like Disney in the late 60s, Studio Ghibli execs must be pondering their future when genius co-founder Hayao Miyazaki is no longer there to pick up the pencil.
The Ghibli heir apparent, Yoshifumi Kondo, died tragically early after completing the best non-Hayao Miyazaki Ghibli movie, 1995’s Whisper of the Heart.
Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, follows the damp squib Tales from Earthsea with a film heavily indebted to Whisper of the Heart’s look and feel.
Like the earlier movie, From Up On Poppy Hill tells a girl’s coming of age story over one eventful summer, and the first pangs of love with a boy who introduces her to an exciting new world.
Here the girl is Umi (Nasagawa), the lad is Shun (Okada) and the exciting world is the after school clubhouse that hosts gatherings on maths, science, philosophy and other high minded pursuits.
In a breezy film with little time for drama, what tension there is comes from the clubhouse’s proposed demolition to make way for a 1964 Olympic Games venue.
But, Goro Miyazaki and dad Hayao, here on scriptwriting duties, are more interested in a pastoral recreation of a supposedly more innocent time. Mealtime rituals are presented in close detail and Umi, a too good to be true heroine, without fail raises a daily semaphore flag for her father lost at sea in the Korean War.
A nautical theme runs throughout the movie. The answer to a riddle that momentarily poses a very awkward problem for Umi and Shun’s love is naval based and the clubhouse itself resembles the interior of a ramshackle sea vessel.
Easy to watch and often beautiful to behold, its nostalgia clearly resonated with a Japanese audience stunned by the 2011 tsunami and subsequent government incompetence. It was the no.1 box office film of that year.
But, From Up On Poppy Hill is ultimately rather bland. Goro Miyazaki has still to prove he possesses the creative flair to produce anything on par with Nausicaa, Spirited Away or Porco Rosso. Or for that matter Whisper of the Heart.