Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in director Amma Asante's period drama, which is based on the true story of Georgian Britain's first mixed-race aristocrat, Dido Belle.
On Film4: 23 Jan 9:00PM
In this whimsical animation from Japanese powerhouse Studio Ghibli, a young girl in early 60s Yokohama spearheads a campaign to clean up her school’s old clubhouse, and prevent it from being demolished in a wave of rampant modernisation.
The likes of Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke may steal the Studio Ghibli limelight, but those curious enough to dig deeper into the Japanese animation company’s canon will find a small, perfectly formed run of low-key, real-world tales that, even without the fantastical flourishes and magical worlds, still bear the studio’s distinctive brand of wonder. The second film from director Goro Miyazaki (Tales Of Earthsea), From Up On Poppy Hill sits right alongside Only Yesterday (1991), Whisper Of The Heart (1995) and the TV movie Ocean Waves (1993) because it dispenses with fantasy in favour of teen melodrama, telling the story of Umi, a schoolgirl in early 60s Yokohama, who searches for the mysterious boy who penned a poem about her in the school newspaper.
Goro Miyazaki does seem more comfortable inhabiting the delicate everyday lives of schoolkids than, say, drafting grand skirmishes between ginormous dragons, but if 2006’s Tales From Earthsea lacked Hayao Miyazaki’s deft navigation of epic adventure and humanist themes, Poppy Hill, co-adapted by Hayao from Tetsuro Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi’s source manga, is a little lacking in that inimitable Ghibli touch, that familiar tendency to find as much magic in the real world as in the realm of fantasy. Perhaps the culprit is a slightly-too-convoluted plot, which across a number of twists and turns brings in staple complications such as absent fathers, baby-swapping and even a little hint of incest - overwhelming the film’s more twee tendencies with soap opera scandal.
One welcome exception is the key location for the film’s subplot, the run-down clubhouse that the boys at Umi’s school have colonised. Essentially a shanty-town of school societies, the raucous bustle of this chaotic little community acts as a real-world companion to the commotion of the bath-house in Spirited Away. There’s real excitement here, especially once Umi and a fleet of female students descend on the building to marshal the young men into cleaning it up, but Miyazaki takes time to reflect on the beauty of the space, too, lingering on the way sunlight cuts through dusty stained glass.
The clean-up operation also serves as the film’s central metaphor. After all, this is 1963, and the clubhouse closure comes as part of a wave of modernisation as Japan prepared for the 1964 Summer Olympics. ‘How can we educate the young without protecting our culture?’ the film asks, but From Up On Poppy Hill takes the Hayao Miyazaki’s recurrent theme of pastoral nostalgia and positions it awkwardly in a period where Japan was not only shaking off its recent past, but also redefining its cultural identity. In 1960s cinema, a new wave of Japanese filmmakers questioned nostalgia and lampooned their elders, but Poppy Hill reimagines this turbulent, exciting generational conflict as featherlight whimsy tinged with melancholy: here, it’s the adults who need to be convinced that the shabby remnants of the past are worth saving.
However, even though the film deploys Ozu-like shots of Coca Cola bottles encroaching on everyday Japanese life, Poppy Hill is clearly unconcerned with confronting history. Despite its specific historical context - something Hayao Miyazaki chose not to make as explicit in his other post-war film, My Neighbour Totoro - this is at heart an endearing character drama set against a beautiful backdrop, in which a bike ride into town at sunset is the romantic ideal. A film of simple pleasures, set at a simpler time.
In a nutshell: A throwback to early 90s Ghibli in its gentle, nostalgic whimsy, From Up On Poppy Hill finds Goro Miyazaki sitting much more comfortably in the director’s chair, but fans of the studio’s fantasy epics may find this fanciful delight to be lacking the familiar magic.
By Michael Leader
Andrea Arnold¿s American Honey continued its run of awards success today, with five nominations at the London Critics¿ Circle Film Awards: Film of the Year, British/Irish Film of the Year, Supportin
Andrea Arnold's American Honey, starring Sasha Lane, triumphed at the British Independent Film Awards 2016 [caption id="attachment_5357" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sasha Lane in American Honey[/
The best all-singing, all-dancing showstoppers every committed to screen
A summary of the critics and film professionals who voted for the top 50 Horror films of the 21st Century
@Film4 At 11am, Barbara Stanwyck is a rancher who rules an Arizona county with her private posse in Samuel Fuller's Forty… https://t.co/5qYCIJDL6H
@Film4 RT @Film4: Choose Arthur's Seat. #T2Trainspotting https://t.co/BgcecEeKWK
@Film4 RT @Film4: James McAvoy talks about starring in @MNightShyamalan's new psychological thriller, @SplitMovie: https://t.co/bAMtclWASM
@Film4 Coming up at 11.25pm, James McAvoy & Mark Strong star in London-set action-thriller Welcome To The Punch. https://t.co/5kcVwQma5e
@Film4 RT @Film4: Addicted to... running? Check out this new clip from #T2Trainspotting, in cinemas 27th January. https://t.co/t1UTWKRKwM