A feel good story of young love that was meant to be, then wasn’t, but then was again, is Japan’s animated film of the year – or so the Japan Academy Prize panel would say.

This is JapanTravelMate.com’s first movie review. I’ve been wanting to watch this Studio Ghibli production for a while, after seeing it promoted by Madman Entertainment as part of the Reel Anime 2012 road show of screenings.

P.S. You can find the trailer with English subtitles at the end of this post.

UPDATE: February 18, 2013 – an English dub version of the film is being released in March 2013. At the end of this post you’ll also find the trailer for this English dubbed version.

The film’s screenplay was created by Hayao Miyazaki, the anime legend who directed four of Studio Ghibli’s most famous animated movies: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. Hayao takes a step back from the role of director, which is taken on by his son Goro Miyazaki in only his second film.

It’s 1963 in Yokohama (just south of Tokyo on Tokyo Bay) and the busy port city is growing and re-building along with the rest of Japan. The Tokaido line of the bullet train (from Tokyo to Osaka) would open a year later to coincide with the Tokyo 1964 Olympics. Families are re-adjusting after the devastation of World War II and the neighbouring conflict of the Korean War, many without fathers and grandfathers.

Tokyo Olympics billboard from 1960s anime
All of Japan, not just Tokyo, underwent a huge transition into a new era of infrastructure leading up to the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.

On top of a hill – let’s call it Poppy Hill – overlooking the port lives a young girl, a junior high school student named Umi. Umi’s parents aren’t around much and she lives in a boarding house that her grandmother owns, along with her sister. As the oldest of the younglings, Umi has a lot of responsibility and takes on duties like cooking and cleaning in the boarding house, while dealing with school and a potential love interest.

Boarding House Family in Japanese Anime Film "From Up On Poppy Hill"
The boarding house where Umi lives with her sister and grandmother is at the very top of Poppy Hill.

Enter – Shun.

Shun is a strong willed student who goes to high school with Umi. The romance starts when Shun performs a dare-devil trick – jumping from the student’s club house as a protest to save it from demolition. The young love story with its twists and turns, and the students campaign to save their beloved, but aging club house, comprise the two main plots of the film.

Umi and Shun "From Up On Poppy Hill" - Japanese Anime Film
Traditional over-the-top anime emotions in a Japanese junior high school.

This is where I thought the movie was getting into stereotypical love-drama territory, as gaping crowds cooed in awe at the touch of a helping hand as the girl’s cheeks lit up with red blushes. So as not to be a spoiler, I’m not going to say anymore except that it doesn’t continue in the stereotyped fashion – which makes for an interesting story.

All the teasers on this film talking about the most cutting edge and vibrant animation are all doing their bit to over-hype this award winning Japanese animated film from Miyazaki and son.

Yokohama in the 1960s
Trams were to disappear from Yokohama to make way for cars on street level. Underground railway and subway systems replaced the electric trams.
Yokohama postcard - 1960s Japan
This is what Yokohama actually looked like in the 1960s. Source: CardCow.com Vintage Postcards.

Although not “cutting edge”, the animation definitely lives up to its description, that it “captures the entrancing beauty of Yokomaha’s harbour and lush surrounding hillsides”. The streets of the port city are bustling with traditional vendors and rickshaws alongside speeding Toyopets. At night, red lanterns light up narrow alleyways filled with standup bars and fish sellers. Every scene is filled with hurrying people and flashes of new technology.

In the hillsides, the soundtrack changes to a lazily paced song that could slow your heart to 60 beats per minute. Neighbourhoods are filled with greenery and life seems to go by slowly.

Then, it’s back to school.

Japanese students cleaning in "From Up On Poppy Hill" - Japanese Anime Film
The campaign to save the club house is underway with a renovation makeover by the students.

The students are keen on defying the rule of the board that governs the school, and the once boys only club house is filled with students of both sexes all pitching in to pretty the place up. This is where the familiar feeling of junior high school drama comes in – camaraderie, teamwork and cheeky antics. But will the club house be saved?

Latin Quater Clubhouse - "From Up On Poppy Hill"
Will their efforts to save the precious clubhouse pay off?

Studio Ghibli is basically the Walt Disney of Japan and produces films for families and kids that have appeal to just about anyone.

But being based on the girl’s manga of the same name, this movie seems targeted a bit more towards the ladies. This is definitely a movie for:

  • girls to watch,
  • to watch with girls,
  • or to practice your Japanese listening skills – which is 50% of the reason I watched the movie.
From Up On Poppy Hill manga
Girl’s manga “From Up On Poppy Hill” with the film advertised on the cover. Source: the blog of Found! Diary Favourites (発見!お気に入り日記) FinePix Z200fd (5.9mm, f/3.8, 1/240 sec, ISO200)

I definitely enjoyed the film and can see why it won the 2012 Animation of the Year award from the Japan Academy Prize.

Put this one on your “to watch” list – but go see Spirited Away first if you haven’t already.

Ghibli Ship Sign
An easter egg from Ghibli Studios. I wonder if they do this in many other movies?


From Up On Poppy Hill – Trailer with English subtitles

From Up On Poppy Hill – English dubbed movie trailer