There are no surprises to be found within From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s your standard Studio Ghibli affair with all the bells and whistles you’d expect of such a studio. Thankfully, the Ghibli standard far exceeds anything I could possibly set out to make. Even their most underwhelming outputs have their charms, and each provide, at the very least, a rich world for people to lose themselves in. Hell, The Cat Returns had whimsical charms to it. Being so left of field is bound to knock something together in such a viciously endearing way. From Up on Poppy Hill, though, is a return to the roots that can be found in the most popular of Ghibli features.
A real-world setting, but with a flair and embrace of reality that keeps us in a state of blissful purgatory. From Up on Poppy Hill thrives rather strongly on its emotive core and the beauty that surrounds it. Nervous teenagers, schoolyard antics for characters that are leaping through their 20s, all the expected notes of a Ghibli romance, congealing together in a state of disrepair. Thankfully, a crisis comes to our rescue, with our group of students coming together to save their old schoolhouse. Cleaning the place up, fixing the broken bits and pieces, all in time for the Olympics.
Most of From Up on Poppy Hill feels rather happenstance. A series of events that not only bring our characters together, but drive them towards their ultimate goal. Fixing a bit of old building. Admirable it may be for them to set out on this journey, but to do so whilst they balance studying, relationships, and tensions elsewhere, is a hard challenge indeed. Goro Miyazaki captures this rather gracefully, reminding us that Ghibli is still a powerhouse of hardworking animators, who care for the craftsmanship of their work. That much is shown with such engrossing variety, the patented style providing a beautiful backdrop to a story that, should it be shoehorned into the misgivings of live-action, would fall flat almost immediately.
Charming as ever, the power Ghibli has in crafting these lovely narratives is a niche they’ve managed to keep a stake in for decades now. A superb, effortless ability to make such enjoyable films, Miyazaki brings a great feature to the Ghibli series of films after what was apparently a rather poor start. Tales of Earthsea may not have made waves, but From Up on Poppy Hill is an admirable, effective piece that feels more to the standard of memorable brilliance Ghibli is known for. Solid animation that has become such a staple of their brand, paired with a lovely story of grounded realities, all under the umbrella of 60s goodwill.