For those familiar with ‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Spirited Away’ and a host of other Studio Ghibli delights, the prospect of a new adventure from Japan’s legendary animators is exciting. ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is the second film from Goro Miyazaki (son of the studio’s founder), who made his directorial debut with ‘Tales from Earthsea’.
Set in the 1960s, this is the gently romantic tale of Umi and Shun, a pair of teenagers who develop feelings for one another as they campaign to save their beloved student club house from demolition. They then realise it’s possible they are related. Story-wise, this is the polar opposite of big-budget US animation, which would bin the storyline as ridiculously uncommercial – though ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ was a huge hit in Japan. Its underlying themes of a nation remaking its self-image are presumably part of the appeal at home, but a greater sense of urgency would improve matters. The gorgeous score and subtle visual craft save this entry in the Ghibli canon from mediocrity. But given what the studio is capable of, it’s not everything fans will be hoping for.