Animator and writer Michael Sporn is feeling slightly conflicted about his critical review of From Up on Poppy Hill.
I think of Ponyo riding those waves of the Tsunami. My heart – my entire body lifted in exuberance with that scene. No matter how many times I’ve seen the film it always does it. I think of Spirited Away (so many moments) where Chihiro rides on that ghost train with “No Name” to the dark foreign and silent land of Yubaba, Zeniba’s twin sister. I think of Princess Mononoke when the god of the forest, dressed like a deer stands watching him from across the lake. It’s so glorious a moment. Or one of my all time favorite moments in the movies – standing at the bus stop with Totoro in the rain waiting for the bus to arrive. It doesn’t get better than that in film.
There are so many other Ghibli moments for me, I could keep going. Yet not even a hint of any of these in Poppy Hill. Maybe that’s why I felt I was so negative. I wanted something I shouldn’t have expected from a sophomore director without the proper experience to play out that very complex relationship between him and the girl. It becomes cliché when it should have torn at our hearts.
I completely understand and agree with your sentiments. My first viewing at the Uptown Theater was a frustrating disappointment. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the best mood, and like you, I feel a great desire to WANT to like this movie. Goro Miyazaki, after all, is the presumptive heir apparent to the studio. He’s being groomed to inherit the family business from his father, and despite his lack of experience, they’re working their hardest to help him grow into the director’s role.
But it always comes back to that simple fact – Goro Miyazaki has no experience as a filmmaker, a storyteller, or an animator. I will gladly agree that Poppy Hill is much better than Earthsea (a very low standard indeed), but the movie was still lacking passion, lacking vision. It was a dutiful son punching in his time card and doing a very respectable, if uninspiring, job.
I have a "copy" of the Japanese Blu-Ray (ahem), but I still haven’t summoned the energy to watch again. I feel as though I’m making excuses, trying to find a reason to like this movie and give it a favorable review. Sigh, it’s like I’m writing for GamePro Magazine all over again. When you're telling yourself that you must "like something," it becomes dishonest, to myself and to others. I want to see a good movie, despite all evidence, therefore a "good" movie appears before my eyes. Believing is Seeing.
It’s interesting to note that Ghibli’s best animators (including the great director Yoshiyuki Momose, the true heir apparent) were working on the animated “film” for Ni no Kuni, the Playstation 3 video game. I’d like to see those animated scenes compiled and shared online, if only to compare to Poppy Hill’s presentation. I also think this movie is very Japanese, and much of the nostalgia and reflections on their post-war generation won’t speak to us. This setting, in the looming shadow of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was Hayao Miyazaki’s key change from the original source material (a 1980 girls’ romance comic); the role of Japan's post-war generation, caught between tradition and the modern world, is arguably the great theme of his directorial career. Younger Goro doesn’t have that life experience, and so we don’t get those key insights, those little details, that we cherish so much in Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s films. Compare Poppy Hill to Mimi/Whisper and Omohide Poro Poro, and you’ll see that difference all too clearly.
I have no idea if Goro has greatness within him; I’m not even sure he wants the job. He’s fulfilling the role of the dutiful son, hoping this will bring him closer to his estranged father, or at least understand the man. But he doesn’t have any of his father’s passions or obsessions. Father Miyazaki was traumatized by war, raised among the ruins of a destroyed nation, and dreamed of drawing comic books and flying.
What makes Goro-san tick? He appears to be highly intelligent, very thoughtful, a peaceful man who would rather cultivate gardens or design architecture. I don’t know how he turns those passions into storytelling. And I don’t think he knows, either. His voice has yet to emerge, and he must also emerge from the shadow of his famous father. And the clock is ticking. A daunting challenge, indeed.
Anyway, I’m sorry for rambling and taking up so much space. But I’m still shook up over Roger Ebert’s passing, and it’s good to talk about the movies with folks who understand.