Michael Sporn Reviews From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill

I hope Michael Sporn will forgive me for posting his review on From Up on Poppy Hill here on Ghibli Blog, but I thought it was a terrific read and would help spark some discussions among the Ghibli faithful.  As an animator and filmmaker, he brings a unique insight into these films, and whenever a new Ghibli movie arrives in the States, he's the first person who's opinions I seek.

As always, I highly recommending his Splog, which is a treasure trove of animation history and full of wit.  I learn something every time I visit, and so should you.

Enjoy Mr. Sporn's review, and let the debates commence:

This week I saw The Croods (and reviewed it here) and From Up on Poppy Hill. I really wanted Poppy Hill to be a small masterpiece, but it wasn’t. It was just a trek. I wanted Goro Miyazaki to have a glimmer of the old man in him; it’ll be hard to let go of Hayao Miyazaki when he retires or decides to end his enormous career. This film was supposedly written by Hayao in collaboration with the son, Goro. I didn’t feel the spirituality of Goro in this movie; That’s what I love about Hayao’s films; there’s a spirituality. All those films (at least since Totoro) are about so much more than what’s on the surface. What’s on the surface is usually good, too. And lately the animation has been getting better. If there’s any spirituality in Goro, it didn’t make it to the big screen, and the animation was first class TV work. No magic there, either.

It’s the second film directed by Goro Miyazaki. Tales from Earthsea should have jump-started a new career. The film was just dull. I assume the artists at Studio Ghibli want things to go on, as well. Poppy Hill had some of the elements of a Ghibli production; it just lacked the magic. First rate styling, fine character design (they all do look a bit like, at times), and a human story.

Although the story had too little in it. It was quite subtle and for a sophomore director to pull it off was too much to ask. The animation rarely had a spark. The characters always did what they were asked to do, but they didn’t really have much of a lifetime within them. The director needed a LOT of experience within him to pull it off, needed a lot of animation experience to be able to pull stronger performances out of his animators and needed a stronger connection to the story to make us care about those characters. Zer0 for three.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d take this over The Croods any day, but I’d prefer to have something good rather than either of these movies.


I Make Comments said...

I think I share his sentiment somewhat. It's not nearly as good as Arietty or Whisper of the Heart. It's just a decent film. That being said, I was really glad to see that it was a massive improvement upon Tales from Earthsea. I think Goro will end up being a very good director. Just stop comparing him to his father, and I think he'll be fine.

Ambi Valent said...

I think Sporn was a little unfair here. I mean, it's one thing if he didn't like it, but it seems he heared it's a Ghibli movie, wanted a masterpiece and got grumpy when he didn't get it.

True, he compared it favorably to The Croods... but unfortunately, a lot of animation these days (and a lot of non-animation as well) is something with little story and liberally peppered with funny scenes and characters.

Don't misunderstand me, I'd rather see Yonebayashi's next work than Goro's, but still I'd like to see Goro's next movie. He wanted too much with Earthsea and failed, but this time he gave a solid performance, which is more than I can say about most animation blockbusters.

Anonymous said...

I personally loved Poppy Hill, and enjoyed it more than Arrietty. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but whatevs. Poppy Hill was a movie where I found myself heavily invested in the character interactions even while not much had actually happened with the characters, which I feel is a great thing. I completely understand people thinking it was boring, or uninteresting, or etc, but as I said, I personally loved it. Something about the atmosphere created in the movie, along with the genuine charm of the characters and their interactions just really appealed to me. Have seen it twice already, look forward to watching it again.

Christoph Rupprecht said...

I have to agree with iibarushion. I was lucky enough to see it when it came out in Japan and have rewatched it since - something I haven't done with Arrietty yet.

Poppy Hill is quite similar to my favorite Whisper of the Heart, even though it lacks the relentless optimism and cheerfulness. But the post-war era did not lend itself to such freedom of worries easily, and I believe it's a great reminder to us living in the present to make use of our freedom from these burdens.

Such deliberately restrained optimism is not the key to box office success. However, it makes me happy to see Goro challenge this kind of "difficult" movie rather than bet on easy success with a fantasy theme (despite Earthsea I believe non-fantasy movies are more challenging because you can't hide behind the fantastics).

While Nausicaa is still my second after Whisper and do love how Ghibli has enriched the world of fantastic movies, I have come to appreciate the subtleties of their real-world films more and more as I grow older (quickly approaching 30...!).

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Those are really good insights. Definitely worth thinking about. I think one of the challenges we'll have with Poppy Hill is how defiantly Japanese it is. It speaks to a nostalgia for the nation's "coming of age" in the post-war era, and it also speaks to the somber reflection of the hurricane/tsunami/nuclear crisis.

I think Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head, when he surmised that Hayao Miyazaki had sensed the national mood. That's going to make Poppy Hill more challenging to Western audiences. But one could say the same about Isao Takahata's films, like Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist, Omohide Poro Poro, and Pom Poko.

To its benefit, this usually means these movies grow on us over time, as we learn and appreciate the subtleties and nuances. Anyway, that's just my guess right now.

Thanks for sharing your opinions, everybody, it's a great help.

Gnickerson said...

After letting it permeate for a couple days, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed "Poppy Hill." It has it's flaws, but I left the theater (both times) feeling satisfied and very pleased. I was also fortunate to get to watch it in Japanese one night and then English the very next evening.

I just had this cozy and comfortable feeling when watching this movie. I also found the film to be quite humorous and the dubbed version had most of the theatre laughing pretty consistently.

The music for me was a standout in this film. It always fit the mood perfectly and the use of "Sukiyaki" was excellent. I also enjoyed the visuals of downtown at night and the the inside of the clubhouse that first time we see it.

For me I compare this film to "Ocean Waves", in the sense that I know it lacks the polish of the Ghibli elite, but I just love it anyway and there is an intangible aspect to the film that draws me to it. Although the fact i'm comparing it to a TV movie is a bit of an indictment haha. However the animation in "Ocean Waves" was clearly a cut below.

This film will definitely get repeat viewings from me.

Josh Leitzel said...

Like other posters here I loved Poppy Hill. Maybe it resonated more with me because I've been studying Japanese culture for a while now so I didn't feel so alienated while watching it. It was a smart move for Goro to try to do a grounded in reality film this time as opposed to such a huge task as adapting an entire series of high fantasy novels into one movie. And the movie showed me how much better a film maker Goro had truly become. He finally made a film more than worthy of the Ghibli name. I've always preferred the realism Ghibli films though. And while I liked Arrietty very much, this was miles ahead of it in terms of how engaging it was for me. So right now I'm much more excited for Goro's next work rather than Hiromasa's. But nonetheless, I'm honestly excited for both of their new films very much. And it's awesome that we've finally got a new talented batch of directors at Ghibli. Plus, Goro is making a freaking SAMURAI MOVIE. A Ghibli samurai movie "that blends fact and fiction." Hm... third time's a charm I'm hoping! Count me in.

Arvin Saints said...

I actually liked From Up on Poppy Hill, but as the reviewer said, it lacked a certain magic that could be seen in Hayao Miyazaki's works. The story is also a bit straightforward, also unlike Hayao Miyazaki's works, which most of the time have underlying messages. Goro is probably pressured right now to live up to the audience's expectations.

I enjoyed this review; it gives me some new insights. I just watched From Up on Poppy Hill recently and reviewed it too. You can find it here.

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