Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

Well that’s two lacklustre Ghibli movies under Goro’s belt. On one hand I can understand Hayao supporting his son in his career, yet on the other hand this blatant form of nepotism is doing nothing but showing that the Miyazaki magic will disappear when he does.

Goro doesn’t deserve to be making Ghibli movies just yet. Maybe gaining more experience doing other things would prepare him for that special of roles, but instead what we’re left with is his experimentations and learning process stamped with the Ghibli logo. It’s diluting the brand. His two films aren’t even pandering to mainstream audiences; that’s certainly not a complaint that can be directed at him, but his films are just directorial missteps that don’t utilise the tools of animation to their best potential. It’s as if after the drubbing he got for Earthsea he thought to himself “I’ll direct a story set in 60’s Japan, the critics will like that!”

Earthsea was a disappointment on every level. There are some detractors of that opinion, but the general consensus from viewers is that Earthsea is far low on the list of Ghibli films you should watch. From Up On Poppy Hill at least has some modicum of charm and old school aesthetic about it that keeps it from being a complete failure however. The last thirty minutes are the best with more pace, urgency and melodramatic moments, but it’s a slog to get there.

The animation is not special in any way other than bringing to life 1960’s Japan with typical Ghibli detail. The story is a simple coming-of-age tale that lacks any life or bite. There is a revelation that sparks things up somewhat, but even that is ultimately diffused. Hayao himself co-wrote the script with the screenwriter of Earthsea, and I like to imagine he tried to make the clubhouse scenes lively in order to bring life to the story.

The music, like everything else with this film, is inoffensive and bland. Joe Hisaishi is not in sight. There’s just nothing here to latch onto and keep in your memory as something to return to. I can recall numerous scenes and musical motifs of previous Ghibli films, but from this all I will recall is the main character pulling up a flag. There are no creative scene compositions, no efficient editing tricks; no passion in the bringing of this tale. The last thirty minutes had developments that could have made a better film by themselves, in a manner similar to Grave of the Fireflies.

When Hayao made Ponyo, you could see his childlike passion for the project in the bluray extras, and you can see it in the work itself, it’s bold and full of life, and contains the most amazing depiction of sea waves I’ve seen in animation. Goro needs to ask himself why he’s a director, and for our sake he needs to find the answer on his own time, and not on Ghibli’s dime.

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