Nostalgic turn from renowned animators
FROM UP ON POPPY HILL
FROM Up On Poppy Hill, a delicate engagement with nostalgia and novelty, comes from Studio Ghibli, Japan's legendary animation house. It is directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of the studio's founder, whose directing debut, Tales From Earthsea, met with a mixed reception. But he displays more assurance and lightness of touch with his latest film, adapted from a 1980s manga.
It is set in the port of Yokohama in 1963, when Japan is about to host the Olympics. The country is in transformation, caught between tradition and modernity. The main characters are high-school students: a shy girl, Umi, who lives in a boarding house and practises a daily ritual of remembrance for the father she lost at sea, and a forthright boy, Shun, editor of the school newspaper.
The pair joins forces to lobby for the retention of an old school building, the headquarters for students' clubs, that is scheduled for demolition, in the enthusiasm for modernisation that has gripped the country. The building is a wonderful, messy, mysterious, almost magical space, evoked with the exquisite detail that Ghibli is celebrated for.
Shun and Umi uncover secrets in the course of their mission, revelations about identity that affect them both. From Up On Poppy Hill doesn't have the expansive supernatural vision of many Ghibli films, but it is a work of quiet charm. The sense of place - both in the natural world, and in urban spaces - is strong and resonant. There's a deft use of music, ranging from jazz tunes to the sound of a famous Japanese pop song of the time, exported to the West as Sukiyaki.
The film screens in a dubbed version, and in Japanese with subtitles.