Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"From Up on Poppy Hill" - the movie

I've now seen the latest Studio Ghibli animated film, "From Up on Poppy Hill." It is set in Yokohama in 1963. The main character is a 16-year-old high school girl, Umi, whose father died when the supply ship he commanded struck a mine during the Korean war and whose mother is in America, studying. Umi lives in her grandmother's house with her two younger siblings. The house, overlooking Yokohama harbor, is a big, old Meiji-era building that has been turned into a boarding house.

Umi meets Shun, an editor on the school newspaper, and they begin a "relationship." I put that in quotes because they never kiss, hug, or (I think) even hold hands. Umi is virginal and Shun and his friends are chaste gentlemen.

The film has two story lines running simultaneously. One is the efforts of Umi's fellow students to save the building in which they have all their clubs; the other is the problem with Shun's paternity. There is no villain. No violence. Disappointments, but nothing serious (other than the father's ship being sunk, which happened ten years earlier). I won't spoil the film by saying more except that I did not go for the plot.

I wanted to see the movie because the Japan the animators illustrated wonderfully was the Japan I knew when I was first stationed there. Seeing the shops, the houses, the trains, the three-wheeled delivery trucks, the trams, of the period took me back. That's what it looked like, and I would not be surprised to learn that a great many older Japanese went to see it for nostalgia's sake.

I believe it is also an interesting film for Westerners for the picture it gives of Japanese student life (at least at that time in that place). Boys and girls all wear school uniforms. They help clean the school. They are involved with club life. The building they are trying to save holds not only the school newspaper office (printed by hand with an ink roller and stencil), but the astronomy club, the math club, the philosophy club, the archeology club and more that went by too fast for me to read their signs. Even when there are conflicting views, one participates with one's group.

I'm glad I made the effort to see it. "From Up on Poppy Hill" is a sweet film.

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