From Up On Poppy Hill / Kokuriko-Zaka Kara

8 Apr


Synopsis: “A group of Yokohama teens look to save their school’s clubhouse from the wrecking ball in preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.” (Rated PG; 1 hour, 31 minutes)

Yes, even an obsessed movie fanatic like myself makes mistakes. Last night I went with two different friends to see From Up On Poppy Hill after explaining it was from master film-maker Miyazaki, who made Spirited Away and other amazing Japanese Anime (animated movies). His track record was the main selling point, and I knew little else about the movie other than it being more of a drama and less of a supernatural fantasy like his other films. Well, it turned out to be that different genre for a reason: it was made by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. And although it wasn’t filled with magic and fantasy like his father’s work, it was actually a very impressive final product.

The movie takes place in the early 1960’s, and follows Umi, a girl who has never stopped hoping her father would return home in spite of the knowledge that he died on a ship in the Korean War. She is an extremely responsible girl who helps take care of her family while going to school, where an extremely unconventional romance begins. To say more about that would spoil the heart of the movie, but it’s not what you expect.

What made Poppy Hill so impressive was that it felt like watching an animated indie film. It was a love story wrapped inside the cute premise of saving their school’s clubhouse, but really it was about two other underlying things:

1) Caring about the past. These were teenagers living at a time when Japan was trying to make everything new and special for their upcoming Olympics, but the children (and NOT the adults) were learning the significance of remembering and respecting what had come before. That along with Umi’s endless longing for her father to come home weren’t exactly the themes of what you’re used to seeing in animated features.

2) Intricate details about life. I saw this movie with both Abe and Liba, and each of them left marveling at the care that was taken into slowly showing the little things that make life beautiful. When Umi made dinner for her family, you would see her life the lid, look inside the pot, take out the rice, carefully pour each measured cup of rice into the bowl, and so on. Liba pointed out that it reminded her culturally of a documentary called Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. I never actually got around to seeing that movie, but I read that it was a fantastic look at an elderly sushi chef in Japan for whom every last detail of the process is crucial, from the purchasing of the ingredients, to the chopping of the fish. There is a respect and patience for the process that is likely ingrained within the Japanese culture, that the rest of us aren’t used to seeing. This reverence for detail and TLC is shown beautifully throughout the film.

I must mention one of the most unusual elements of the movie: its music. In a movie that was Japanese down to its very core, the music, by Satoshi Takebe, was noticeably not. There were a few different styles but all were extremely cute and felt somewhat out of place. There was a very French style, an old-fashioned American style, and even when there were Japanese words being sung, they still had a very French influence. The latter can be heard in a YouTube clip I’ll provide here, where at the start of the clip and at the 5.30 minute mark you can hear two songs start with a decidedly non-Japanese influence. I actually loved the music itself (most of which was instrumental) but I’m not sure it belonged in a movie that was all about adhering and respecting the Japanese past and culture. Rather than function as good background music for the story that helped to set the mood, it was somewhat incongruous and took you out of the moment; in fact numerous times I talked with Abe or Liba about it as the movie was progressing.  Though on the flip-side, I do admit I LIKED listening to it, I just don’t think it fit here…

As with all of his fathers’ movies, a laundry list of American actors did the voice-over to dub the movie into English; though admittedly the only one I could recognize throughout was Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog, Fright Night, Star Trek), whose soft, sweet voice is somewhat unmistakable at this point. And lest I ignore one key fact: Miyazaki DID employ his famous father as one of the writers of the story, all the more fitting considering its theme of respect and honor for your parents and past.

The movie was better than most American non-Pixar cartoons, and isn’t even really comparable to them. Since I have only seen a few assorted classic Japanese Anime, I don’t have one specific one I can say this is better than. However, it isn’t as good as Hayao Miyazaki’s classics, including Spirited Away and Ponyo. (Though one thing this improved upon was that Ponyo had a theme song that paled in comparison to my descriptions of the music in From Up On Poppy Hill. It was like a song made for Barney (the dinosaur), and I will take the opportunity to provide a link to hear it right here!)

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: B+ (Its slow pacing made me a LITTLE bit impatient at times, but I always enjoyed taking it all in)


8 Responses to “From Up On Poppy Hill / Kokuriko-Zaka Kara”

  1. Linda April 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    I listened to the song as you invited us to and was utterly charmed. But you are right, it’s somewhat French and I’m wondering if this is deliberate as the film will sell well in France. It could also pass for Israeli, of a type. The painting btw could be French too. btw, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is terrific and Tampopo – woman dreams of noodles! – with the handsome Ken Watanabe is magical.


    • boazconstrictor April 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      I love Ken Watanabe in the few (mostly) English speaking roles I’ve seen him in. And I’m glad you enjoyed the music and agree, it felt out of place but I still liked it nonetheless. Kind of funny!


  2. projectedrealities April 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    I still want to see this movie, though since it’s not in my area, I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD. Thanks very much for your kind words on my own blog, Projected Realities, however!


    • boazconstrictor April 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading and saying that, I appreciate it, and I’m flattered you’re now following as well. Hope you get to see the movie at the end, even if it must be on DVD…


  3. projectedrealities April 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Oh, and great review, by the way.


  4. table9mutant April 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Great review. I just watched the trailer for this a few days ago and was curious about it. I love Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro & Castle In The Sky – am interested to see what his son’s film is like.


    • boazconstrictor April 20, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      I NEED to see Totoro, that one I missed, but the others are great. Especially Spirited Away, that’s still far and away my personal favorite!
      Thanks for the compliments! 🙂


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