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From Up on Poppy Hill

This was the second film I got to see at the Civic Theatre in downtown Auckland, this time with my host-sister. I got to get pretty excited for it via an impromptu Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli marathon that’s been going on for the past week and a half or so. Since we decided to go see this I’ve watched The Cat Returns, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and half of Porco Rosso. Also, I’ve been reading Ursula K Leguin’s Tales from Earthsea, which is of course eons better than Goro Miyazaki’s film adaptation and thus the source of slight uncertainty about how much I would like From Up On Poppy Hill. This film came out in Japan last year and its writing team included both Goro and his dad the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.

It was absolutely breathtaking seeing a Studio Ghibli movie on the silver screen. The last film I saw like this was Spirited Away 10 years ago when I was in the 6th grade. Thus the fact that I watched this one here in New Zealand was special in its own way.

Anyway, the thing about this on big screen was how I got to see its stunning scenery and landscapes and characters so life-size. It was truly enthralling.

The story was incredibly complex in a mundane (that is: lacking fantastical qualities) sense, centering on the relationship between high schoolers Umi and Shun. Their budding romance against the backdrop of a student-led movement to save a historical clubhouse “The Latin Quartier,” reminiscent of Howl’s bedroom. And really if I say much more than that about the plot I’ll give the whole thing away. And I might give the whole thing away by saying the following but who cares. It was an awesome story that reminded me strongly of Fiela’s Child by Dalene Mathee which is cool ’cause that was one of my favorite international books I read in high school.

I thought it was wonderful how well the plots and sub-plots were woven together. There were even moments when Tina and I exchanged glances that said, Wow, I actually have no idea what’s going to happen. All the minor characters were, as usual, stunning, but I’ve got to say that my favorite minor characters were the Philosophy guy (this huge dude with a hilarious face who would work himself into huge fits of fervor and sweat and cry through his nose and stuff) and the artist that stayed with Umi. Seeing this on big screen meant not having to miss the shots where people were FREAKING OUT in the background and that was the source of a lot of really hard laughs.

Okay but I just need to say that I’m really waiting for a Ghibli film that has an excitable main female character. Gosh I mean aside from bursting into tears at one point, she was quite taciturn and soft-spoken. That certainly has its place, but that archetype seems to be held in some sort of reverence in a lot of Japanese/Asian works I’ve seen. I’m sorry but I connect more with a girl that randomly starts laughing or yelling at someone, more like Ponyo except she’s five so that’s not exactly a good example. And I guess Chihiro does that but again she’s like 12. I’m sorry to say that I kind of found her boring. Shun wasn’t much better but he at least had a really strong reaction to [certain plot points that shall remain undisclosed] that carried the tension a lot further than Umi did.

That’s really my only complaint though, and it’s not exactly a huge one. Over all, what a lovely experience!

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