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Old 18th May 2014, 15:48   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default From Up On Poppy Hill

As I wait to see The Wind Also Rises, this was a belated watch of a Mothering Sunday gift, and I admit that I was a little nervous to see how it would turn out. Of the many Ghibli films I have on my shelves, I have avoided buying Tales of Earthsea not only because Goro Miyazaki is said to have mangled and distorted the Ursula le Guin classic to the point of non-recognition, but also since Goro's father, the master animator Hayao, had also reportedly found fault with his son's first feature film for the company.



From Up On Poppy Hill is directed by the son, from a script by the father, of a manga comic from the 80's, of a story set in 1963 - but all these factors combine to produce a moving yet amusing story of high-school love. The film takes its place alongside Whisper of the Heart, and Only Yesterday, and even Ocean Waves, as a mature offering of character and culture and historical detail that casts a spell and enchants on a more worldly level as well. This is not a Ghibli fantasy feature - great as some of those are (Spirited Away, Mononoke, Howl, Totoro) - but a study in period realism.

Whilst her medical professor mother studies in the States, Umi runs their boarding-house in Yokohama and manages her younger siblings and elderly grandmother as well as the daily chores. Her father died in a transport ship in the Korean War but daily, Umi raises signal flags to the boats that pass by, praying for "safe voyages". At school, a ramshackle and junk-filled student 'club-house' is under threat of redevelopment by the school chairman and business entrepreneur. As the 1964 Tokyo Olympics presses Japanese society to erase a difficult past and promote a glittering new future, Umi joins forces with Shum, the young editor of the Literary Society news-sheet, to defend the value of the old alongside the new. She also falls in love but there is an unusual complication that surfaces from their romance which the film does not shy from.

For younger children, there are plenty of humorous scenes - the various gangs of lads who occupy the club-house, despairing of anyone joining the Archaeological Society; or the acutely-observed boarding-house occupants. But for older viewers the story has sad depths and a maturity that is unexpected. Given that teenagers confounded in love in Japan are renowned for taking themselves off the top of local mountaintops, the film keeps the narrative calm and deeply personal I have yet to see a Western animation that deals with the emotions of the mundane in the way a Ghibli film does - showing with such verisimilitude something of the stress, tiredness, lack of self-esteem, concern or grief for a parent, fearfulness of one's uncertainty about the future. All the more impressive because these things are not over-dramatized or exaggerated for effect - it is the small subtle ways in which people are hurt, or encouraged, or made brave, or how they learn how to cope with a tough routine, or the uncertainty of life or the difficulty of living with on-going compromise.

Also we get the delight of details of Japanese culture: the cooking, the bustle of the market streets, the teenagers being ever-so polite and gracious to each other and to those in authority. A real film, I think.
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