The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A Ghibli film set in the real world isn’t quite the same

with 23 comments

fromuponpoppyhillI’ll never forget when I met Spirited Away.

It opened the doors to a place where I never had been before – as opposed to my daughter, who had read manga comics for years. When I told her about how absolutely foreign all of this felt to me (in a good way, as in new, imaginative and exciting), she gave me a forbearing smile. It turned out that she was familiar with the all those strange creatures as well as with the narrative style, which doesn’t comply with the laws of traditional storytelling in the western hemisphere.

Since then I’ve watched a few more of Studio Ghibli’s movies: Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and The Secret World of Arietty. What they all had in common was that they allowed me to enter worlds of magic and imagination, different from the world where I live. The fantasy element was always what I liked most about them, apart from them being generally beautiful and well made.

The new film from this studio, From Up on Poppy Hill doesn’t enter this magical realm, and it’s probably the reason why it doesn’t click with me the same way as the previous films. It’s still pretty, most definitely, but it feels a little more – how shall I put it? – ordinary than I’ve become used to.

The film takes place in 1964, when a group of teenagers try to save their school clubhouse from destruction. There’s also a cute little love story about a girl and a boy, both fatherless, who fall in love and face some complications that may stop them from becoming a couple. And well, that’s about it. Frankly there isn’t all that much going on in the film. I could hear the little kids in the audience rattling impatiently with their crisp bags and I wondered what they made of it. I imagined they weren’t overly involved with it. Considering the pace and lack of excitement, it’s not something I’d recommend you to bring your children to see.

One thing that irked me a little bit was how traditional it was in terms of gender roles. I guess the fact that it takes place in the 60s is a good excuse, but I’m still not particularly happy to see girls serving on their brothers, preparing their meals and mending their clothes, because that’s what girls do. And when the club house needs to be saved, it’s the boys who are vocal and deal with the politics, while the girls are giving them admiring looks. When the girls finally take part in the house saving project, their major function is to do the cleaning of the place.

I didn’t hate the film. I enjoyed the background images a lot, especially the ones from Tokyo, and the music is pleasant. True fans of the genre will probably find more pleasure in it than I did. But for me, a very casual visitor with a taste for fantasy, it was a bit of a letdown.

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara, Goro Miyazaki, JA 2011) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

January 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

23 Responses

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  1. I’ve only seen Spirited Away from Studio Ghibli and it was great. I haven’t got around to the others, not sure how I’d feel about this one. I kind of always associate this genre with a fantasy story so I guess I get what you’re saying.

    ruth

    January 2, 2013 at 3:33 am

    • If you loved Spirited Away I think you should explore this world. I think it’s fascinating. It brings a very different tone than the animated films we normally see. I wouldn’t start with this one though.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm

  2. Spirited Away is definitely my favourite. It was an entry into anime for me as well, and now I’ve seen nearly all of the Studio Ghibli works.
    From Up On Poppy Hill was really a beautiful story to me, and it reminded me of another Ghibli film called Whisper of the Heart – the same smaller-scale, real world type of story-telling.
    I’d definitely recommend for you Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Nausicaa is my second favourite

    Ruth

    January 2, 2013 at 4:36 am

    • I’ve been intending to see Nausicaa for a long time. Just because I wasn’t overly into this one, it doesn’t mean that I’m done with anime. I’ve only just started.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 11:00 pm

  3. I found this movie quite ordinary too (even though I’m sort of fan of studio Ghibli)
    though the reason is not that it is out of the imaginary world: “whisper of the heart” or “Only yesterday” happens in the “real world” too, but those two I really like.
    I blame director of the movie – his 1st movie was even worse, this one is better but still below my expectations from this Studio.

    doaken

    January 2, 2013 at 6:34 am

    • It’s the son, isn’t it? If I remember it correctly there was some kind of issue between the father and the son, but now they’ve made up and come together. Which is nice and all of course. But I wish the movie was better.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      • Yes, Goro is the son of Hayao.

        doaken

        January 3, 2013 at 6:22 am

  4. They have made more of these type of films, but of course when they bring in the magic it does add a lot. Still I’m looking forward to seeing this.

    Nostra

    January 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

    • I wouldn’t advice against seeing it, especially not if you’re into the Ghibli stuff. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to bring their children too it though. I think they’d find it a bit slow and dull.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

  5. Oh, you haven’t seen “Kiki’s Delivery Service” yet… because the cityscapes wouldn’t be that much “different from the world where [you] live” – at least within one hour from your home. But well, then there is some magic and witchcraft in it that may be not so common in Stockholm these days ;-). A very nice movie, even if it is aimed at a young audience (around 13).

    Hauke

    January 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    • Ah, Kiki! I’ve heard about it and know they were influenced by a trip to Sweden when they made it. It’s up on my list as one of the anime films I’d like to see.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm

  6. I feel the same way you do about the Ghibli films. My first one was My Neighbor Totoro, and I was mesmerized. I probably wouldn’t enjoy From Up on Poppy Hill as much either, but I’d still like to see it with my 9 y/o daughter. The rigid gender roles will be hard to watch, but it will make an interesting springboard for discussion.

    Steph

    January 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    • Well, I’m not entirely sure what your daughter will think of it. She’d better be prepared for that it’s pretty slow going.

      Jessica

      January 2, 2013 at 11:05 pm

  7. I really enjoy Studio Ghibli’s stuff but I tend to stick more to the films of it’s creator Hayao Miyazaki. I always check the director before buying any of the films as any director other than him tends not to have the same spark or fantasy element.

    Mark Walker

    January 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    • I must say that I don’t keep track of the directors; I’m not knowledgeable enough in anime. But from now on I’ll be a little more aware.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm

  8. My son saw this one last night with his girlfriend from Japan (fourtantly it wasn´t dubbed i swedish 😉 ). They both liked it. I haven´t seen so many movies from this studio but i do like Totoro and Spirited away.

    filmitch

    January 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    • In this case I was happy it wasn’t dubbed. When it comes to Totoro I must admit that I switched over to the Swedish voices after giving the Japanese a try. Their shrills hurt my ears too much.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

  9. It is said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in this case maybe it did. Still, I haven’t seen any films by the son Goro. What I know is that the films I have seen by Hayao have been good or great. My favorites are Nausicaä, Mononoke hime and Kiki.

    The best from Ghibli though is Grave of the Fireflies. Bring your tissues.

    Jojjenito

    January 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    • I haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies yet. I really need to do that. I think we have a copy of it at home so I really have no excuse not to.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  10. Hi Jess. I’m so glad to have discovered where you went off to after World of Warcraft. I’m particularly elated that you are blogging about movies, which isn’t so far off from the anime I was blogging about just recently (I’ve moved on to very specific anime blogging endeavours!), but I guess the best way for me to catch up to you in common ground would be to link to an old post of mine highlighting my favourite anime films at the time. I’ve watched more since then, and the list has changed so much due to life experiences. Here they are:

    http://bakalaureate.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/its-the-greatest-show-time-krizzlybears-10-favourite-anime-films-of-all-tim/
    http://bakalaureate.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/it%E2%80%99s-the-greatest-show-time-krizzlybear%E2%80%99s-10-favourite-anime-films-of-all-time-part-ii/

    I look forward to reading more things from you, even if it’s from films that I’ve never seen (I am hardly able to keep up with watching them to begin with), as it’s your writing that I’m truly in love with, rather than the subject matter (WoW or films or what have you). Have a wonderful one!

    krizzlybear

    May 6, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    • It’s so great to see you here! It feels like no time has run at all. Your favourite chair is here, I brought it with me. And here’s your drink to enjoy!

      As you already might have noticed I’ve seen a couple of anime movies, but I’m by no means any expert. Spirited Away that you have in your list is one of my favourites, maybe even my number 1. I’m also very fond of My neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke.

      If you’ve missed my writing you’ve got some catching up to do now. I think it’s over 400 posts by now. 🙂

      I look forward to hear more from you and particularly to have you as my guide into anime movies.

      Jessica

      May 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm


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