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DVD Review: From up on Poppy Hill

18th September 2013

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The latest offering from legendary Studio Ghibli (creators of Spirited Away and Ponyo) is From up on Poppy Hill, a charming coming of age story set in post-war Yokohama, Japan, in 1963.

From up on Poppy Hill tells the story of Umi, the put-upon daughter of a Poppy Hill guesthouse, who spends her mornings raising flags for passing ships, her days at school, and her evenings cooking and cleaning for little reward, and Shun, a charismatic and political schoolboy who is determined to save his crumbling old clubhouse from demolition at any cost.

Studio Ghibli excels at what it does, conveying a sense of innocence yet still managing to be powerful. One of the main selling points of From up on Poppy Hill is its implications – we see nothing of the romance between the two central characters, yet somehow we know absolutely that it is there. This is the unique aspect, as well as the fact that the film deals with fairly heavy  post-war themes (including parental loss) without becoming too dark, that means Studio Ghibli films are a pleasure for children and adults alike.

There is an innocence to characters when they are animated; we look for less complexity than we would with humans on our screens. Body language and facial expressions are less of a concern. Despite this we do still feel Umi and Shuns’ deep confusion – they are trying to make sense of their lives, their roles, how they fit into their parents’ lives, but in no way is this ever melodramatic or needlessly emotional.  

Of course, the imagery is beautiful and the vibrant colours pop out from the screen in every scene – this almost goes without saying. Over the top of this charming backdrop are the occasionally lost-in-translation subtitles. Early in the film, as Umi takes her usual place in the kitchen (how the film deals with the traditional role of the woman in the home is interesting), we learn that “the tofu is jibbly.” What this means is left to guesswork.

There are confusing moments – towards the end of the film we are left without fully understanding the outcome of Umi’s life-affirming conversation with her mother, for example. We could put this down to translation issues, or simply a lack of clarity in their words – or maybe this is the point. Anyway, it doesn’t overly matter.

Those of us who are new to Studio Ghibli but aware of its beloved status, as well as established fans, can expect an extremely warm, often humorous and never predictable step back in time, to a Japan that is picking itself up after the horrors of war, and into the lives of a generation of teenagers who are attempting to make sense of the things that are happening around them. In this way, it is timeless.  

From up on Poppy Hill is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 23rd September.

Enter our competition to win copies here.

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