Story Lines Not Super Important For Japanese Animation

From Up On Poppy Hill is pretty good for a movie without a plot
by C. Sarah Strafford
Comix Editor


This may come as no shock to most people that I, the Comix editor, am a huge otaku, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to see the new Studio Ghibi film, From Up On Poppy Hill. Fortunately there have been pre-release showings of the film in artsy-fartsy indie theaters throughout Manhattan – one being the conveniently situated Film Society of Lincoln Center.

I went into the theater on my lonesome, without a clue as to what this film had in store. I was mostly indulging my art nerdyness to see the beautiful Studio Ghibi animation on the big screen. I was certainly not disappointed – well, for the most part.

The film told the story of Umi, a young girl who lives by a picturesque bay in Japan during the early 1960s. Every day she raises flags overlooking the bay, in memory of her father. At school, she tentatively starts a friendship with Shun, a young boy on the school’s newspaper. Both set out to save their school’s club house from demolition. The film has all the classic Studio Ghibi tropes: a strong female lead and feminist undertones, picturesque sceneries, a whiff of environmentalism, and young romance.

This film is most satisfying in its rich environment and exquisite animation. It seamlessly blends the natural beauty of a bay town with a sprawling Japanese city. The club house combines whimsical colors and architecture to create a fantasy-like environment bathed in sunlight through stained glass windows.

Though I might sound like a pretentious art snob, I very much prefer the hand-drawn, carefully rendered animation that Studio Ghibi produces compared to anything being made here in America. For me, their animation is always a breath of fresh air compared to western animation (*cough* Pixar).

Part of what I enjoy most about Studio Ghibi’s films is how there will always be something surprising or unusual about their stories. However, I didn’t feel this way about Poppy Hill. The plot was simple – perhaps a little too simple for my taste – though it was nice for what it was. There was nothing particularly surprising about the plot itself, I predicted most of it from the start of the film and felt like I had seen this plot before, but the way it was presented and the setting it was situated in was uniquely refreshing.

One thing that I particularly liked about this pre-showing is that it was still in Japanese with English sub-titles. The English dub of this film will not be out on regular release until 2015, so it was a huge treat to get to see it in Japanese before then. If anything, I felt the experience was enriched by having the film in its original language (sorry to sounding pretentious yet again).

It is worth catching this film in theaters, especially at its now discounted price at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. So while I can only hope one of our readers follows my advice and goes to see From Up On Poppy Hill, what I do know for sure is that I’m definitely a pretentious art major, and this film presented me a great opportunity for nerding out.

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