Miyazaki Nostalgia

Up on Poppy Hill

Still from Studio Ghibli’s “Up on Poppy Hill”

One thing that Goro Miyazaki’s film Up on Poppy Hill shares with films directed by his father — especially My Neighbor Totoro — is its ability to conjure, for me, an instant sense of longing to spend time in a place I’ve never been in, but which feels immediate, real and vital, even if also idealized and romanticized. Up on Poppy Hill doesn’t make quite the emotional impact of a film like Totoro, nor does it try for the wild imaginative reach of Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, there’s no supernatural element in the story at all — it’s a small-scale melodrama whose plot is, frankly, a half-done affair, and maybe the least interesting thing about it. But it nevertheless felt immersive — transmitting a kind of sunny melancholy, if that makes any sense.

Most of all, it makes the Yokohama of 1964 about as gorgeously appealing as a town can be. I watched the film at the IFC Children’s Film Festival this morning — thanks to my prescient wife’s attention to the upcoming screening — with our daughters, and our eldest and I agreed it made us want to visit Japan rather keenly. But of course what we were enraptured with was the landscape of someone’s memories, a place we can never otherwise visit. It stung a bit to know that, but it’s also what lent an otherwise slender film real weight.

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From the Wayback Machine: Fragments of the Friday Quiz

Way back in the dark backward of time, I ran a website called (with customary lack of inspiration) the Wombat File.

Short explanation for the name: I’ve always liked wombats.

Every Friday on the File, I had a Quiz — no Googling, no asking your crazy-smart 8th-grader. First correct answer in the comments won bragging rights. Even though it’s a Wednesday, it’s a good one — a two part cortex-number from 2005:

The official language of two countries which, taken together, have a population of seventy million people, is also spoken by some of the residents of a number of other countries. For the great majority of these people, though, it is a second language picked up in later life, and only learned as a mother tongue by a small proportion of its speakers, and in no nation is it spoken by all. Interestingly, the name of this language itself is, according to the linguist Nicholas Oster, derived from a word in yet another, far more widely-spoken language, which referred to the geography of the area in which the native speakers of the smaller language live.

What is this language, and what is the more widespread language from which its name derives?

(It might be easier to play this one on Facebook — where I’ll also post it.)

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“Entrepreneurs Can’t Wait”

Ready to trust News Corp, Amazon, and a bunch of edu-tech startups with your child’s personal academic history? Then follow the New York Department of Education down the rabbit hole to the wonderland of data mining students.

Best bit:

While inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

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Science: Iliad Still Really Old

They say the findings here “won’t have classicists in a snit” – but come on. They’ll find a reason. Classicists and their snits!

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