Have you ever felt that people are rushing to embrace the future while pushing the past aside? Have you ever felt nostalgia for the good old days when things weren’t so complicated? Studio Ghibli’s 2011 release, From Up on Poppy Hill, certainly feels that way.
The film takes us through the daily life of Umi, a high school girl, who is the main caretaker of her family and the boarders who live at her house. Her mother is studying medicine in America, and her father was tragically killed in the Korean War when Umi was a little girl. Umi is basically the mother of the entire household, and she admirably lives up to the demanding role. Part of her morning routine (besides preparing breakfast for everyone) is raising signal flags outside. These flags hold sentimental value to Umi, a sign that she can’t let go of her past yet.
Things start to change when Umi gets involved in the high school’s newspaper, run by a fellow student called Shun. Both are naturally, quietly drawn to each other, but a family secret threatens to tear their blooming relationship. While they struggle to figure out their relationship, they also work to save an ancient, creaky clubhouse that the school uses to host numerous clubs (they even have an archeology club!) from being torn down.
Okay, let me start off by saying that Umi is a superhero. The way she is able to balance school with taking care of her family and boarders is simply amazing, but she does make time for other activities like running the school newspaper and cleaning the clubhouse. However, she can only take so much. Holding the “world” proves to be very heavy on her young shoulders. In this way, she is relatable in several ways and a great role model.
The tension between embracing the future while honoring the past is a recurring theme throughout From Up on Poppy Hill. School administration wants to tear down the clubhouse (a symbol of history) to make way for modernization in Japan. The high school students, on the other hand, want to preserve the clubhouse as an act of unity and cultural remembrance. They fear that in rushing towards the future and modernization, they will lose their cultural identity and history, connections that help determine and shape who they are as people and citizens of Japan.
From Up on Poppy Hill was the second film to be directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of the celebrated Hayao Miyazaki. Goro’s first film was the polarizing Tales from Earthsea which is often considered the worst among Studio Ghibli movies. Fortunately, From Up on Poppy Hill is a far better film. It has a natural charm, infused with wistfulness, melancholy, and gorgeous animation, that draws me back again and again. The film is not for everyone. Its calm, slow pacing can certainly get tedious at times, but eventually, it can be rewarding to watch and contemplate.
What are your thoughts about the film? Do you like From Up on Poppy Hill?
Edited by: MJ Edwards