So, Friday the 13th I found myself heading off to Leicester Square, London, (rape alarm at the ready) for the UK premiere of Studio Ghibli’s new movie ‘From up on Poppy Hill’. I was blown away by how many people turned up as when I’d brought tickets to go see one of the first UK screenings of Arriety last summer only a handful of people were there at the cinema, and most of them were just little’ns with their parents. The atmosphere was, therefore, a tad more alive, and I’m guessing, from the round of applause it received afterwards, it was well-received but, what did I think of it?
For those of you who’ve no idea what this is about and are reading this out of curiosity, From up on Poppy Hill is a story which revolves around teens Umi and Shun who are desperately trying to save their school’s historic clubhouse, Latin Quarter, which is on the verge of being torn down. The views of those who desire to tear down Latin Quarter mirror the views of many as, at the time the story’s set, 1963, many wished to tear down older buildings in order to build new, impressive ones in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games. The two protagonists, inevitably, begin to like one another however, this blossoming romance soon grinds to a halt, (or does it?) when they discover they could be siblings. So, now for what I thought of the movie:
My overall consensus on Poppy Hill is that it didn’t feel like many of the other Ghibli’s, this was because of a couple of things but, mainly because I feel it didn’t flow as well as some of their previous movies. The pacing was a little sloppy- the passing of time often felt very strange, and jarring. Some scenes crept by whereas others seemed to be over before they started. For example, the breakfast scene towards the beginning of the film went on for-ever. I understand they were trying to introduce some of the characters but, three-quarters of them served no purpose to the overall story whatsoever, so, was this necessary? On the other hand, the scene were Umi and Shun were working together to create the paper and the scene Shun went to pee passed incredibly quickly. I hadn’t even realised time had passed at all until they were over, something which screams dodgy directing. I mean, Shun finished peeing in the time it’d take the average man to simply undo his zipper, it was a little odd. Not that I was desperate to see more of him peeing, that’s just the first example of time passing incredibly fast I could think of, I swear!
Another reason it didn’t feel like an average Ghibli is because Poppy Hill seemed to be telling two different stories, stories I weren’t sure completely coincided. The story of the teens’ bid to preserve Latin Quarter, in which the overarching theme was respecting one’s heritage, and the love story between Umi and Shun, it really seemed as though these two sides of the film were competing for the audience’s attention rather than working together. I guess one could argue the whole saving Latin Quarter was the catalyst for their love but, I dunno, it still didn’t feel as though the two halves of the story meshed very well so, it’s only right I look at and judge these two halves separately.
Right, that first half of the story, guess I can’t put it off any longer, that jarring relationship between Umi and Shun. Now, I had nothing against the obvious chemistry between them, (except that it was maybe a little predictable) at first but, as soon as you learn they may be siblings, the whole thing feels very awkward. I’m not sure who is excited by forbidden, incestuous love but, I’m certainly not, (give me BL any day!) and I doubt the large majority of the target audience for Poppy Hill would be either. It just felt very inappropriate and out of place in a Ghibli movie. *SPOILER* Even though it turns out they are, in fact, not siblings, making their relationship A-OK again, this back-and-forth-ing did more damage to the overall storyline than it did good *END SPOILER*
So, needless to say, out of the two aspects of the story I definitely enjoyed the saving Latin Quarter aspect more. Whilst the concept of preserving one’s heritage is always relevant, whatever society you’re in, I wasn’t sure it’d be something that could be made to seem interesting to kids, (who are, let’s not forget, the Ghibli films’ target audience) but, it was dealt with in such a fun, entertaining way it wasn’t long before I no longer saw that as an issue. So, why was it so fun? Well, because the characters fighting against the destruction of Latin Quarter were so fun of course! Which brings me to my next point…
A third reason this didn’t feel like a Ghibli is not actually a negative one. Sorry, I’ve done a lot of complaining about the movie so far when I actually really enjoyed it! It felt different from the average Ghibli because the story was, largely, pushed forward by a male character, Shun. I know Poppy Hill isn’t the only Ghibli to do this but, on the whole, the story in the large majority of their movies is pushed forward by a heroine- Nausica, Haru, Satsuki and Mei, Kiki, Chihiro, Ponyo and Arriety being just a few of these heroines. I usually love it when shows opt for heroines over heroes but, this seems a shame in Ghibli’s case when they churn out such great male protagonists! Shun made the, perhaps not so exciting, topic of preserving cultural heritage exciting through the sheer passion he had for it. Many of, what I thought were the film’s best scenes revolved around his extreme, often dangerous forms of protest for saving Latin Quarter. His zeal made me want to go out and save old buildings myself! But, I wasn’t the only one to find myself charmed by Shun but, nearly every single character in the film. Now, I don’t recall any of Ghibli’s heroines having the same level of charm, (except maybe Ponyo). Perhaps it was because, being a guy, Shun was able to exert his influence and exude confidence without seeming arrogant and unlikeable- it’s what we’re socialised to expect in boys but, look down on in girls. In any case, I revelled in the most influential character in this Ghibli being a boy!
The art however, was one of the few things which felt typical of a Ghibli as it was to the same high standard as usual, nothing new to report! Some of the backdrops were simply beautiful, particularly some of the night-time shots of the harbour and of Latin Quarter itself pre-makeover. Latin Quarter looked almost otherworldly and kinda reminded me of Howl’s room in its intricate beauty and the sheer level of detail put into it. Wonderful.
So overall, despite the awkward incestual relationship between Umi and Shun and iffy pacing in places, Poppy Hill was actually a pretty good film. Its dynamic characters make an otherwise boring topic fun, and easily accessible, whilst also inspiring more than their fair share of the LOLs. Perhaps not my favourite Ghibli but, one I’d definitely re-watch all the same. A solid 8/10.