Ghibli on Netflix: From Up on Poppy Hill
James R | On 05, Apr 2020
With Studio Ghibli films now available on Netflix UK, we look at what makes them so magical.
Magic. Imagination. The beauty and difficulties of growing up. Forget all of those things that make Studio Ghibli movies great. The secret ingredient that powers the Japanese powerhouse’s universal charm? Food. It may be the thing that initially separates Mei from her parents in Spirited Away together, but Ghibli films also appreciate the way that food and meals can bring people together through daily routine, the simple harmony of communal activity and through sheer mouth-watering appetite.
Ponyo’s love of Ham, the herring pot pies in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the bacon cooked on Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle. Whatever your particular Ghibli morsel of choice is, none can come close to From Up on Poppy Hill’s ravishing breakfast scene, which begins the whole movie. Accompanied by a dainty jaunt that’s actually called “Breakfast Song” (by Teshima Aoi Song), it’s a gloriously tasty introduction to the world of Umi (Masami Nagasawa), who is trying her best to bring her household together and after them.
In the house? Her younger sister and grandmother – her mother is studying overseas – who require help and feeding while Umi also goes to school and, in memory of her Korean War soldier dad, raises the flag outside their clifftop abode.
It’s a busy life in 1963 Yokohama, but there’s still time for her to cross paths with Shun (Junichi Okada), a student who runs the school newspaper. The paper’s based in an old clubhouse, which is about to be demolished ready for the upcoming Olympics. That tension between old and new runs through the film, which weaves nostalgia and melancholy into a recollection of youthful optimism. At its heart is a photo of Umi’s father that Shun also possesses, which opens up the question of how their pasts are connected, just as the country is trying to move on from the conflict-strewn world her father inhabited.
The result is a tale that dares to think small – an approach that, one possibly awkward revelation aside, spells a much more even effort from director Gorō Miyazaki than his misjudged debut, Tales from Earthsea. It helps, perhaps, that Hayao Miyazaki co-wrote the script with Keiko Niwa – based on the comic by Tetsurō Sayama). It’s accompanied by a delightful score from Satoshi Takebe, which doesn’t shy away from some catchy piano, and lolls along to the rhythms of everyday life in a village on the verge of modern progress. It’s a slight offering in Ghibli’s canon, but that’s why it works, lingering on the small moments that matter, from bikes going down the lane to eggs sizzling in a pan.
From Up on Poppy Hill is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.