Director: Gorō Miyazaki
Writers: Tetsurō Sayama (comic), Chizuru Takahashi (comic illustrator), Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa (screenwriters)
Teenagers Umi and Shun fall in love as they work together to save their school clubhouse from demolition. A secret from their past, however, threatens to tear them apart.
From Up on Poppy Hill possesses a rare, quiet beauty, the kind that does not fully reveal itself until some time after the story has ended. In part, this stems from the quiet nature of the story itself; it unfolds so simply and so naturally that one hardly feels a spectator of a work of art. Instead, the viewer seems a part of Umi and Shun’s world, a sharer in their joys and in their sorrows. Not until the final scene has faded does the full power of the story hit. Then it is a swift, sharp blow: it hurts in its intensity.
Plot-wise, not everyone may find something remarkable about From Up on Poppy Hill. Two threads intertwine to form the story: one follows the budding romance of Umi and Shun and the other follows the proposed demolition of a beloved school building. The world has seen both before. It is the characters that set this tale apart.
Umi and Shun’s story so easily could have turned into a turbid affair, some sick thing reminiscent of Greek myth or tragedy and its often illicit longings. But the young lovers are so unassuming, so comfortable in their own sense of right and wrong that their very natures forbid such an occurrence. Instead they soldier on, determined to the right thing and not to succumb to despair. Their choice is as uplifting as it is, perhaps, unexpected. And somehow their tears bring light to the hearts of the viewers.
Providing some welcome comic relief to this troubled romance is a whole host of characters, as varied as any could wish. From the sleepy college student who boards in Umi’s house to the somewhat socially inept philosopher to the archaeology students who so desperately want to be “cool,” there is no dearth of endearing quirkiness among the ensemble. None of them, however, ever becomes a caricature or a stereotype; the love the creators feel for each (no matter how minor a role they have) imbues them with individual life. Soon, one feels acquainted with them all, as if they were people and not pictures on a screen.
From any Studio Ghibli film one expects exceptional quality—beautiful art, sympathetic characters, and a whisper of magic. From Up on Poppy Hill, however, gained a special place in my heart. The quiet uprightness of Umi and Shun, and their youthful innocence, contrasted with the confusion and vitality of their schoolmates, enchanted me. They promise viewers that there are still good people in the world, people who long to do right. And they inspire viewers to take a little bit of their courage and their integrity with them.