I think that the world would be vastly improved with Hayao Miyazaki as its landscape architect. Imagine your street, now a slab of concrete sidewalks, lined with trees and flowering shrubs. There, don’t you feel better? From Up On Poppy Hill is directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, but the influence of the father is in every frame. Hayao’s screenplay provides the story, and the lavishly painted backgrounds provide the beauty we have come to expect from a Miyazaki production.
Poppy Hill is a neighborhood in Yokohama where a girl named Umi lives in 1963. She has taken on the responsibility of cooking for the boarding house owned by her grandmother. Umi’s mother is in America studying for what I am not certain. Her brother and sister live in the boarding house along with a handful of sympathetic residents. Her father was killed in the Korean war when he was a captain on a supply boat. Umi’s ministrations in the kitchen show her to be a competent cook, and conscientious worker.
However, she is still in school, attending classes every day. Next to the school house is a clubhouse attended by boys interested in archeology, philosophy, chemistry, literature, and other things. Their home base is a beloved wreck of a place, stuffed to the gills with years of accretions. It makes Citizen Kane’s basement look like a tidy pantry. It is part of the ethos of the movie to honor the past not just for nostalgia, but as a traditional Japanese value.
The Tokyo Olympics are to take place in 1964, and all of Japan is busy cleaning up, putting on its best face, trying to impress the world with its modernity and efficiency. Taking down an old building would be part of this cleanup. Umi joins forces with the boys in the clubhouse, and with her expert and conscientious cleanup efforts, they take their cause to the man who would be razing the building.
I loved the use of the song, “Sukiyaki,” a song I remember well from my youth, shot through with longing and tenderness and the inevitability of a love affair cut off too soon.
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