From up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli

We’ve come to expect a certain mysticism from a Studio Ghibli film (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro) and at first glance this story of budding friendship set against Japan’s preparation for the 1964 Olympics seems a decidedly human tale. A high-school girl, responsible for taking care of her family and the house, meets a charismatic boy who is struggling to save a school clubhouse from being demolished. There are no spirits, keepers of the forest or kodama, but as From up on Poppy Hill strips away the layers, it reveals that everyday life can be just as fantastical. The hand-drawn animation and exceptional score contribute to a sense of beauty and sincerity that seeps into every portion of the film. As the story unravels, it begins to uncover deeper themes and motifs as the high-schoolers and the nation stand at a crossroads. The clubhouse—a delightful mix of library, laboratory and Neverland-style hangout—becomes more than a manifestation of the debate of old versus new; it’s a commentary on academia’s continuing trend to remove the wonder and adventure from learning in favor of guided structure. Director Goro Miyazaki handles the screenplay by his legendary father, Hayao Miyazaki, with great pace and imagery, understanding that the quiet, subtle moments often are the most memorable.