From Up on Poppy Hill tells a predictable melodramatic story set in the 60’s, but the detailed animation of the period makes an enjoyable and nostalgic film.

Set in Yokohama, Japan just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Poppy Hill tells the story of Umi, a second-year high school girl who lives and works at a tenant house run by her grandmother. Every morning she raises signal flags out on the garden which overlooks the ocean as a way to remember her lost father, before embarking on a daily routine rigidly structured around school and the chores she must perform at her home. One day she runs into a reckless, dashing senior named Shun, and soon allows her life to open up to the optimism and energy of the teen idealists who occupy Quarter Latin, a dilapidated school clubhouse. Meanwhile, unforeseen revelations about their families’ past force Umi and Shun, who are increasingly drawn to each other, to reconsider their feelings.

Unlike most Studio Ghibli works, this film is grounded in reality. It’s mainly about a love story between two young students, both children of sailors who had died because of the war. The animation is very detailed, capturing a lifelike picture of the 60’s in Yokohama, Japan. Everything here has enough period detail to make most people nostalgic.

There’s nothing else in the film apart from its straightforward narrative. It’s endearing but the story is predictable. The whole movie itself is too safe. Unlike in the “Whisper of the Heart” that mixes fantasy with reality, From Up on Poppy Hill doesn’t veer away from the confines of its generic love story. What makes the senior Miyazaki’s work unique and special is its ability to create the extraordinary from ordinary, telling us that life in itself is full of wonders if we care to pay attention. He’s also not afraid to insert real world issues that add some gravitas to the film.

The attempt to save the clubhouse is a theme of the movie that could have been further explored – changes that shape the present, and its impact on idealists who hold on to the sentimental past. Japan was going through significant changes during that time, but all you get is a glimpse of a developing Tokyo.

Still, From Up on Poppy Hill is an enjoyable film. It made me wonder what Yokohama looks like now, and about idyllic neighborhoods in old Japan.

My Rating: 7/10

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