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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