From Up on Poppy Hill | Movie review
Hayao Miyazaki’s son showcases a different side the family’s animation studio.
Fans of Hayao Miyazaki likely regard his company, Studio Ghibli, as a peddler of the fantastic, from the earthshaking forest sprite of My Neighbor Totoro (1988) to the porcine transformations in Spirited Away (2001). But From Up on Poppy Hill, cowritten by Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, shows a different side of the Japanese animation house, finding equal wonder in comparatively mundane affairs. The only spirit here is the collective memory that lives in the Latin Quarter, a dusty Yokohama clubhouse threatened with demolition in the run-up to the 1964 Summer Olympics.
Crossbreeding Ozu with John Sayles’s Lone Star, Ghibli’s latest mines the beauty in the daily routines of quasi-orphaned high schooler Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger), who watches the family boarding house while her widowed mother is off in America. Her father was killed during the Korean War, but every day she raises signal flags to wish sailors a safe voyage, protecting the future by commemorating the past. But history is also a minefield, as Umi learns when scrambled birth records cast an incestuous shadow on her romance with fellow student Shun (Anton Yelchin).
The Miyazaki house has a nostalgic bent, but as in John Ford, whose beloved folk song “Red River Valley” makes a cameo, a longing for yesteryear is not a blank check. From Up on Poppy Hill shows how backstory defines us, for good and for ill; to know it is to know ourselves.