From Up On Poppy Hill is a 2011 Japanese animated film directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao Miyazaki, one of the co-founders of the beloved animation studio, “Studio Ghibli.” Taking place after World War II in Japan, this film focuses on a young girl named Umi who has a habit of raising flags every morning in hopes her father, whose ship sank during the Korean War, would find his way back home. When she and her sister, Sora, take part in preventing a building full of school clubs known as the Latin Quarter from being demolished, young love blossoms between her and another boy, Shun, as they do what they can to allow the Latin Quarters, a building where
one can reconnect with their past, to remain.
Although this movie may seem mundane at first to some as they follow a student who takes care of her family and goes to school like any other student would do, From Up On Poppy Hill accomplishes the spark of young love that gets your cheeks turning red. It reminds us of the simple things like never backing down and having the right to voice your opinion. Additionally, this film elucidates something vital: family. And it does all this through dreamlike sceneries, lighthearted music, and realistic relationships.
There is absolutely no doubt that one of the main things that Studio Ghibli is known for is the way they animate their films. When Umi and Sora first enter the Latin Quarters, we can see the beautiful chaos and cluster as the girls head up the stairs: t-shirts hung up to dry, boxes piled on top of each other as they form their own mountain, writings on the walls, and much more. It’s so detailed that you could basically picture yourself there with them as you bring your body close, squeezing through the only empty spaces available in this madhouse. As Shun gives Umi a ride to buy some food for her family, we are awakened by the bright, vibrant lights surrounding the town and the crowds of people shopping at different stores, chattering amongst themselves as if this were a town that never slept. A town filled with people with different lives who are just trying to get by like Umi and Shun are. And of course, who could forget the food? We don’t see much of it compared to other Studio Ghibli Films, but when it does pop up on the screen, it makes your heart rush with hunger. From the savory sushi Umi prepares for her family to the warm, fluffy bread Umi and Shun share before he takes off to his house. These films will never lose the magic of their food as it makes your mouth water with delight.
Another form of art that this animation studio never fails to lack is its music. Studio Ghibli’s music always finds a way to make its audience feel a rush of emotions as seen before in other films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. For instance, the lighthearted piano music accompanied by other lovely instruments can be heard during Umi and Shun’s first interaction, letting us feel that giddiness in our hearts now that the two young future lovebirds have met, reminding us of the innocence of young love. Then, a beautiful yet sad piano medley begins when Shun discovers that he and Umi share
the same father and realizes they cannot love each other as he witnesses her flags from his spot on a ship on the sea. This allows there to be a greater impact when there is no music at all. For example, the lack of music present when Umi and Shun have a short and awkward conversation after Shun’s discovery makes one feel awkward, hoping the two can reconnect soon. Finally, the music hits us once again when Shun and Umi make a run to a man who is aware of Umi’s father and Shun’s actual father as the song begins with a guitar strumming fast and then later accompanied by an orchestra and a piano, allowing us to realize the great importance of this moment and finding ourselves impatient to see what happens next.
Finally, what makes this film so great and fun to watch is something simple: the ways the characters interact with one another. Sora, Umi’s sister, has a funny and outgoing personality that can attract anyone and everyone. She’s a little boy-crazy as she willingly lets Shiro escort her to different places of the Latin Quarter and begs her sister to do favors for her like go visit Shun so she can get his autograph, making her feel real and true to what an actual sister and typical teenage girl would act like. I also admire the way Shun and Umi interact since their conversations flow nicely and nothing is ever rushed between the two of them. From the amount of time it takes for Umi to gather up the courage and ask Shun if he wrote a poem about her that was posted to their school newspaper to how Shun genuinely seems interested in Umi’s life and what she has to say, taking her advice to clean up the Latin Quarters and asking her questions as she takes him on a tour of her house. What I also find to be fascinating is the manner in which the boys interact with the girls of the school as they all work together to clean up the building until it appears brand new. Despite their differences and the fact that the Latin Quarters were mainly filled with boys, they still manage to get along and save this building from destruction. They hold meetings and debates about the issue and gather around when Shiro tells everyone that the Board is planning to demolish the building during summer break.
Finally, there’s Umi, a girl with a simplistic life who just wants to see her father once more. As the mother resides in America, Umi takes on her role as we see her cook for her family and take care of her younger siblings. She never stops raising the flags for her father who she sees in her dreams. She speaks what’s on her mind just like the rest. She is willing to help out Shun and his friends as she joins Shun and Shiro to convince the head of the board to not demolish their building. The people who sell food on the streets know her as if they were friends. Umi is the kind and loving soul we all had the chance to meet at least once in our lives, which is what makes you root for her happy ending with the boy she loves.
From Up On Poppy Hill is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films to exist for how wholesome and simplistic it is. For just an hour and 30 minutes, you can follow Umi and her friends as they save the Latin Quarters, a building where one can reconnect with their past and witness the breathtaking scenery, angelic music, and down-to-earth relationships.
Danna Taboada (she/her) is a sixteen-year-old writer from New York. She loves listening to music of any genre, dancing, spending time with her family and friends, reading, and writing. She plans on majoring in Creative Writing in the future.