“Ever since the wars, it seems the whole country is eager to get rid of the old and make way for the new,” notes Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger), the resourceful, demure teen heroine of Goro Miyazaki’s lovely second film. “But some of us aren’t so ready to let go of the past.”
This sentiment becomes a touchstone for Umi as she campaigns against the proposed demolition of an old clubhouse in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Her efforts attract the attention of Shun, a charismatic firebrand who publishes the school newspaper. But in a country unwilling to discuss the past, the teenagers' blossoming romance is threatened by obscure birth records and unclear parentage. From Up on Poppy Hill teases out these complex issues against a simpler time of household chores, waving at passing tugboats and downhill bike rides.
Anime fans winced collectively in 2006, when Miyazaki's adaptation of Tales from Earthsea arrived with a dull thud and Worst Movie gong from the Bunshun Raspberry Awards. The young director had landed the mammoth task of translating Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea sequence, a project that his father, the master animator Hayao Miyazaki, was forced to abandon in favour of Howl's Moving Castle.
Miyazaki the younger couldn't win: his father had already created the Earthsea-alike Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), a film that ensured unfavourable comparisons. Rumours and mutterings held that the two were no longer speaking, that father was convinced his son wasn't ready for the job.
In truth, Tales from Earthsea might have impressed critics had it emerged from another animation imprint. But with Studio Ghibli – the home of Grave of the Fireflies – the bar is that little bit higher. The name Miyazaki, meanwhile, is one we associate with such modern masterpieces as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro.
Happily for Goro and for Ghibli junkies, From Up on Poppy Hill is characterised by everything we love about the House of Troll: beautifully precise architectural sketches, endearingly warm nostalgia, gentle teen romance and genuine intrigue.
Nestled snugly in the same gorgeous Ghibli nook as Ocean Waves and Only Yesterday, this welcome adaptation of a well-regarded manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama was a smash hit in Japan. It deserves as much attention here. Do seek it out.