Miyazaki ships off his penultimate Ghibli hit

From-Up-on-Poppy-HillHEART-WARMING, whimsical, imaginative and downright brilliant would be my description of the movies released from legendary production team Studio Ghibli. Perhaps not all of their movies are hits or masterpieces, but to look at their collection as a whole is nothing short of truly amazing.

Studio Ghibli has for the longest time existed in a strange place in the western zeitgeist. Not quite obscure enough to be called niche, but not quite popular enough to become a household name, they exist somewhere in the middle. Normally if you were to ask someone about Studio Ghibli you’ll get one of three reactions: “Never heard of it”, “Yes! I love them” or, “Oh yeah; I think I’ve seen a bit on Film4 at 3am when I was drunk.” As a film fan I’ve always thought it to be a shame that we only tend to pay attention to the glamour of American Hollywood cinema when other countries have so much to offer: the French for their Art-house, Swedish thrillers, Chinese Martial Arts and police dramas and, of course, Japan for their animation.

Which is why I was incredibly disappointed to hear of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement. Ghibli is certainly not the be all or end all of animation from Japan, but definitely the most popular, particularly after becoming the only non-American animators to win an Oscar back in 2004.  There’s no question about it, the end of Ghibli will leave an empty space in the hearts of its fans.

That would be of course if it was actually ending. Miyazaki’s retirement thankfully does not mean the end of the studio and I have no doubt that the studio will continue to churn out films after his retirement; I even trust that many of them will be as epic, as outstanding and as imaginative as previous releases. However I imagine it kind of like the TARDIS leaving Doctor Who, or if the popping noise were to retire from bubble wrap, sure there are other great things about them, but it’s losing a lot of the charm that we fell in love with. Still let us hope I am wrong and Studio Ghibli can keep their popping noise.

From Up on Poppy Hill is the second to last Ghibli film that Miyazaki will be working on and it does not disappoint. Usually Ghibli movies can either be defined into two categories – imaginative or romantic – and if you’re like me then you’d hate romantic films. Fear not, as this romantic film is nothing like your standard, generic, sappy romantic comedy in which person A cannot be with person B because of work, or because at the start of the movie they hate each other but slowly, over time, ‘hilarious’ hijinks ensue and they realise they always loved each other. No, no, no – our lovebirds in this movie cannot be together for very particular reasons.

What’s always been great about Ghibli – something I wish American romantic comedies would take a page from – is that the romance is often placed on the back burner and is fuelled by a very interesting, very amusing story. It’s 1964 and Japan is in full swing of preparations to replace the old for the new, making the city of Tokyo look presentable to the world for the 1964 Olympics.

16 year old Umi Matsuzaki is a high school girl in a maritime town. While her mother is on leave in America, she has been forcibly placed in a motherly role for her large family after her father’s death while serving in the navy during the Korean War. Each and every morning she raises a signal flag facing the ocean in memory of her father who told her that signal flags once saved his life by guiding his ship back home. She is stuck in a routine between caring for her family and school, essentially just showing up and leaving without any real social interaction, feeling like she has too many responsibilities to enjoy herself.

This cycle becomes broken after 17 year old Shun Kazama performs an idiotic stunt as protest to save the school’s clubhouse which is threatening to be destroyed and replaced with a new building, after which he finds himself becoming something of a hero to the school. Umi finds herself accidentally becoming involved after assisting Shun with the school paper. The two almost become romantically involved but he starts to ignore her after he learns that they may have shared the same father.

The story is full of charm, fighting to keep a history alive as opposed to just replacing with the new. Japanese culture has always tried to blend traditional ways with the new, and this movie shows that you do not need to completely replace your history to improve. It’s a message that speaks true to Japan but can translate throughout any culture. This is not just a date movie; the romance is not overpowering and every single scene involving the clubhouse is both fantastic and hilarious. I’m almost tempted to call it one of the greatest locations in any Ghibli film.  Imagine if every single university society took place in one giant house, except it was run down and falling to pieces: you end up looking forward to the next clubhouse scene immediately after one has ended.

I am not going to lie: at points the movie takes unusual turns for the teenage romance, turning into a quite uncomfortable and very abnormal situation. When it plays out, it’s best to let the movie unfold rather than make assumptions. It’s a strange choice for a plot device but not one I can fault the movie on too much. You can watch this in either dubbed or subtitled depending on your preferences but I do highly recommend you watch it.

From Up on Poppy Hill is now available on DVD.