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.
Huge Ghibli fan, as you may know from my pieces 🙂 Haven’t checked out Poppy Hill yet, but have you seen Whisper of the Heart? Seems slightly similar.
Yes. Whisper of the Heart is one of my favorites. Poppy Hill is closer to that premise, especially since there is singing involved as was the case in Whisper of the Heart. I’d like to see them make another movie like Castle in the Sky.
I’ve wondered about this movies. I remember Ponyo looked odd and a little boring, but knowing it was Ghibli I watched it. I really liked it and I’m still not sure why.
At first I didn’t know what to make of Ponyo, because it’s so different from Spirited Away, the first Miyazaki movie I saw. Ponyo‘s definitely on the younger scale of things. Princess Mononoke is at the upper end. It’s great though.
I started on Princess Mononoke, so it’s a strange change jump for me. Howl’s Moving Castle was fun.
I loved Howl, though some of my friends hated the ending of it.
I love this: “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.” And I agree! I loved reading Jane Austen novels when I was a teenager for this very reason. I remember reading about all of the letters that had to be sent back and forth and the impossibility of immediate contact or a quick courtship and just finding that so charming and so comforting, when I was feeling impatient about things I hoped would hurry up and happen!
That’s why I’m looking forward to your epistolary novel. 🙂 That’s also why I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s epistolary novels as well as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
I too am a fan of the classics, Linda. Facebook, texting, etc. might bring couples together, but they’ve also been know to tear couples apart…no thanks! Bring back the days of a slow courtship.
I love the slow build up. Chemistry is very important. And, sadly, I know some couples who learned their significant others broke up with them through a post or a status change Facebook. Ugh! It’s embarrassing!
I know someone from my hometown who, via Wales, has moved to your country with his wife. He has lived in a few different towns and cities there, and though he drives he does make a point of exploring the places he finds himself in on foot. Says that is the only way to get to know the place.
I agree, though with the arctic wind today, I don’t feel up to walking anywhere. The wind took my breath away.
What a fantastic and thoughtful post! Thank you! I am such a fan of Miyazaki – and was able to visit Studio Ghibli last summer. Amazing! I am glad to hear this movie is out on DVD! Will look for it!
Thank you! Yes, it’s out. I rented it through Netflix, but it is a must-own for me now.
Wow! How cool that you got to visit the studio!! That’s awesome.
Never heard of this, and I am intrigued. Thank you for showing me the way to new things.
You’re welcome. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I like the gentle approach every now and then.
Good luck on your walking goals, Andra!
I’m not much of a Studio Ghibli fan.
Really? Why? Please tell me more.
I don’t like Japanese animation style.
Ah. Well, I can understand. Thanks for your honesty.
Great piece, makes you think about pieces of work, whatever form they take that far longer than mass-produced, you can see love, care and attention goes into them. I guess its nostalgia which makes us think that way/ I’m glad I do, makes you appreciate the simpler things too all the more.
Thanks, Tim. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic because I’m writing about an older period of history. Thanks for stopping by.
Ps, can;t wait to see Poppy Hill
I enjoyed it. It’s gentle and slow moving though. If you liked Whisper of the Heart, you’ll like it. But if Princess Mononoke is more your speed, you might find it a tad tedious.
I wasn’t as big a fan of Whisper of heart, Its more the visuals that get my attention with Ghibli films.
Ah. Well, Poppy’s worth a look though it might not be one you’d like a whole lot.
I watched “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” a few months ago after reading about them on your blog. Wonderful! There are many more I need to see. Thanks!
I greatly love both. I recommend Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
I love Miyazaki. LOVE. I do love the gentle rhythm of life that you point out. I also love his juxtaposition of strange technological elements that seem fantastical (like in Howl’s Moving Castle–that was definitely not in the book!) with the natural world. I also love that his movies aren’t deep, angsty character studies, but you get the sense that they are very real and particular characters with their own very poignant, and sometimes quite profound, but simple longings. I haven’t seen this one (or Ponyo–I’m behind!) Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
I love that aspect too, Pam. That’s why I find his films so restful. Have you seen The Secret World of Arietty (based on The Borrowers)?
No, I’ve seen about a half dozen or so of his films, but apparently I’ve got some catching up to do!
Yes, I’m definitely a Miyazaki fan as well — “Spirited Away” was definitely unlike any animated film I’d seen before, whether Japanese anime or otherwise. Although it didn’t feature violence or particularly hideous monsters, it was able to shock and disturb me with its imagery, and also to bring a tenderness that I wasn’t expecting.
That was the first Miyazaki film that I saw. Princess Mononoke is even more disturbing, yet masterfully done.
I haven’t seen Poppy Hill yet! (Although I did get to catch The Wind Rises in theaters this past summer.) With your endorsement, I’ll definitely have to make time for it soon.
Ooo! How was The Wind Rises, Sarah?? I hope it comes to the States soon.)
Definitely worth seeing. I enjoyed it while I watched it but wouldn’t have ranked it among my top Ghibli favorites. That said, a lot of scenes and images have stuck with me even half a year later, and I think I actually appreciate it more in retrospect (as if it’s somehow ripened in my mind with age, haha).
In many ways it exemplifies you the points you make in this post–unconventional plotting, slice of life focus, historical setting, incredible work ethic.
I can’t wait to see it. I’m sorry to learn that it’s his last film. He gave us so many great ones.
Haven’t heard of this either but the thought of a couple falling in love while riding their bikes or walking is SO sweet!
I love that image too, Maria! 😀
Oh! I didn’t know Goro Miyazaki worked on another movie. I watched Tales from Earthsea and was only mildly impressed with the plot. But practice makes better and I’m curious about this one. Thanks so much for sharing with us.
I wasn’t enamored with Earthsea also, but I LOVED Ursula’s series. I love Poppy, however.