I concede defeat. I have tried and tried, but I can’t quite figure out what makes Studio Ghibli’s films, particularly those in which Hayao Miyazaki has been involved, so emotionally satisfying. The phenomenal animation? Compelling stories? The touch of ma space? Case in point: I just finished watching From Up on Poppy Hill. If someone had told me the premise without telling me who was involved in the film, I’d be hitting the snooze button right about now.
Here is the premise: A girl (Umi), whose mom studies medicine in America and sea captain dad is presumed dead, works to help save a clubhouse slated for demolition at her school. All of this takes place before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Um, yeah. Sounds like a real nail biter, huh?
Hayao Miyazaki. He can grin, because I’m hooked on his movies.
Yet it was! There’s much more to the story than that—namely a budding romance and an extremely surprising twist. I’m a fan of both. Miyazaki wrote the film (based on a graphic novel) along with Keiko Niwa, and his son Gorō directed it. It debuted in Japan in 2011 and in the United States in 2013. If you’re used to movies like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, you might have to switch gears a bit, since From Up on Poppy Hill is as different from either film as day is from night. I mean, yeah, they all feature a strong female lead. But most of Miyazaki’s films go that route.
Okay. I’ll give figuring out what makes these films so special another shot, instead of letting my ignorance win the day. Maybe it’s the work ethic inherent in the films. Everyone works really, really hard. Even minor tasks seem compelling and noble. Take From Up on Poppy Hill. Umi cooks for the people who live in her family’s boarding house. Throughout the movie, she works hard with others to help clean the dilapidated clubhouse. Why? Because the students who inhabit the clubhouse are charmed by the past too, and think it worth preserving.
When Umi’s not cleaning the clubhouse, she’s hoisting signal flags (um, there’s a good reason for this), studying, or helping her new friend Shun with the newspaper produced by Shun’s literary club. Maybe for you, these activities sound about as interesting as watching paint dry. But what I find most charming about this story, and other stories about the past is the lack of technological conveniences. Life has a gentle rhythm. Relationships are forged not by texts or email, but by people hanging out and talking, working together, or through the exchange of long letters. Change comes about not by innovative software or high speed Internet, but by people meeting face to face and hashing things out.
This is one reason why I’m a fan of the classics and all of the lovely effort involved in relating to others or simply getting from Point A to Point B. There’s nothing instant about anyone’s journey. The past isn’t perfect, however, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my car. I enjoy a plane ride. My iPhone is awesome. But for sheer entertainment value, I like to journey back to the past, back to a day when a couple falls in love not through Facebook but through a long bike ride or a walk down a street. Ah. Those were the days.
Movie poster from imdb.com. Princess Mononoke image from fanpop.com. Miyazaki photo from Wikipedia. Umi and Shun from movit.net.