They did it again! I watched From Up On poppy Hill last night sir. It’s the latest animated film by Studio Ghibli, co-written by Hayao Miyazaki and his son Goro. The film is about about Umi, a high school student who lives on top of Poppy Hill in a Japanese sea side town. Every morning at dawn she raises signal flags for her father. Hayao Miyazaki and his team re-stamp their gift in capturing the commonplace and bring the special out if it. They either make magical worlds with no real sense of evil, only human tension (Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) or they make profound pronouncements from provincial settings (My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart). They always go inward, and the stories always turn to self discovery. The reason why Pixar is so amazing is because they’ve decided long ago to take queues from this ‘Japanese Disney.’ They take memories, mostly from childhood when the sense of wonder is at its peak, and recapture it. But what sets Studio Ghibli apart is their sense of initiation. There’s no good vs. evil dichotomy, only the conflict and eventual acceptance from the child who is forced to grow up due to the parents’ absence. Hayao Miyazaki is fond of capturing that quiet but painful transition in every person’s life where he or she needs to let go of his or her childhood. And what makes it more special is that Studio Ghibli usually presents it through the mundane activities and ordinary encounters of their heroine.
Yes I say heroine, because much like James Cameron, Miyazaki writes about strong young women who don’t necessarily have to kick butt. They have fears, they cry, they’re not “conventionally” pretty, they’re experts in cooking and cleaning, they take care of their little siblings, they have a crush on that cute boy or on that boy who pays attention, and yes they have a gentle and quiet spirit. I love that in making her strong, Miyazaki does not negate the heart of a woman in the process.
From Up On Poppy Hill is purely romance: from the locale setting which was intricately captured through the town, the school, the market, the harbor, the movement of people, to the 1960s high school love, the music, the silliness, and a classic plot device which, as the character Shun describes it, “like some cheap melodrama,” and it actually works. Everyone likes a good romance.
You know what Sir, I first fell in love with Hayao Miyazaki back when I was just 4 or 5 years old. I saw My Neighbor Totoro and it never left me. I still feel the wonder when May saw the spirit creature, or the fun the sisters had in their new house. They had a running stream by their gate, a manual pump for their water, they picked fruit and ate it; and when they went up the stairs, I knew their fear, it’s like being transported in an episode of Are You Afraid OF The Dark?. I think country life is the best place to make memories for a child sir, where the field is a vast playground to explore, you hear the howl of the wind, the rustle of the trees, the chicken as alarm clock, and every afternoon means freedom and adventure.
But I digress; I think Hayao Miyazaki and his studio are a gift for this generation. Because they really make effort in making animated films that features the past. I fear that memories of the past are slowly getting lost in children today. I was born in the 90s sir, the last generation who knew the immense joy of playing outside. We ran home with sweat and dirt on our necks. Nothing beats that sir, especially not the flicking and clicking of a screen.