When Joseph Susanka noted on his blog that the latest from Studio Ghibli, Up On Poppy Hill, was now available in this country on DVD I went forthwith to Amazon and ordered it sight unseen. Tonight we all sat down to watch it, and I can say that it was money well spent.
I’ve been a Hayao Miyazaki fan since I first saw Spirited Away a little over ten years ago—a life time in blog-years. Poppy Hill isn’t precisely a Miyazaki film; or, rather, it is: Hayao Miyazaki worked on the screenplay, but the film was directed by his son Goro Miyazaki film. And I have to say, I can see three significant differences between Poppy Hill and previous Studio Ghibli films I’ve seen.
First, there are no fantastic elements. It’s a tale of young love in a high school in post-war Japan. The couple meet, there’s a snag, you know the drill. Meanwhile, there’s a beloved high school building that’s going to be torn down, and a bunch of hard volunteer labor cleaning it up. There’s a certain amount of goofiness, and fair amount of sweetness, and on the whole I enjoyed the heck out of it. All four of my kids, from the sixteen year-old down to the nine-year-old, were very much engaged, and my older girl’s first words after it ended were, “I want to see that again.”
So it’s a different kind of story than Studio Ghibli usually tells, but it was well done.
Second, the characters in Miyazaki’s movies usually look Caucasian, even when the movie is clearly set in Japan. The characters in Poppy Hill are definitely from the Miyazaki playbook (Umi, the female lead, looks more or less like Nausicca/Kiki with pigtails) but the skintone is different, and the Japanese setting is emphasized.
Third, Miyazaki’s movies are known for being visually stunning. When I sit down to see one for the first time, I know I’ve got a visual treat in store. Poppy Hill, however, sets a new standard for awesome.
It’s sweet, it’s funny, it’s beautiful. Take a look.