Director: Goro Miyazaki
Original Release: 2011
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Full disclosure: this movie was virtually guaranteed at least a 4-rating from me for the setting alone. Yokohama is near and dear to my heart. Frequent visitors already know that I've spent five years of my life in Japan - three as a child and two as an adult. I was born a diplo-brat in Tokyo. When I went back, it was to teach English in Yokohama. Without a doubt, it was the great formative experience of my young adulthood and the spirit of the city will course through my veins until my dying day.
Not surprisingly, my Yokohama of the mid- to late '90s had changed a great deal from the early '60s version in From Up on Poppy Hill. By my time, the street cars were gone, the roads were all paved and the buildings were taller. But some parts of the city - the downtown area and the walk along the harbor at Sakuragi-cho - while certainly less developed, were instantly recognizable, inspiring audible sighs from me and eye rolls from My Wife. No mere Tokyo suburb, this city of 3 million is fiercely proud of its maritime history and the movie showcases that very nicely.
Of course, there's a story, too, based on Kokuriko-zaka Kara, a serialized comic by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama. Umi is a teenage girl who raises maritime flags every day as a message to her long lost father. One day, she meets Shun, a boy at school who is working with his friends to save an old clubhouse. They fall in love, but there are complications as mysteries about their family histories are unraveled.
Like I said, I was predisposed to liking this film from the start. But in addition to my affection for the city, I found Umi's and Shun's relationship to be entirely authentic. No over the top romance here, just a simple warmth that draws them together. They belong to one another. Love is everywhere in movies, as if it's something that happens as a matter of course and we as the audience are expected to accept it without question. Every once in a while, though, I see love I truly believe. Such was the case here. I felt their pain when the complications came.
From Up on Poppy Hill was Goro Miyazaki's second film. While I enjoyed the first, Tales from Earthsea (review here), this one feels like a big step up. The critics were much kinder, too.
Finally, Kyu Sakamoto's "Ue o Muite Aroko" is featured prominently in the movie. A major international hit, the song better known to the English-speaking world as "Sukiyaki" topped the Billboard charts for three weeks in 1963. I sang the song to the school at my farewell assembly, half in Japanese, half in English - so, an obvious sentimental attachment for me there.
Here's one English version, by 4PM:
Sakamoto was from Kawasaki, another city in the Tokyo megalopolis, wedged between Yokohama and Tokyo - 1 million strong in its own right. He died in 1985 at age 43 in the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, the second deadliest airplane accident in history with 520 dead and only 4 survivors. I leave you with Kyu, in Japanese, with a literal translation of the lyrics: