Kokuriko-zaka kara (2011)

by Jaime Grijalba.

The latest released Ghibli film (in lieu of 2 new releases coming in 2013) is the second directorial work of the son of the master of the japanese animation and Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki, Goro Miyazaki, and while there’s a whole story regarding what’s going behind in the relationship between those two regarding the directing of these movies (there’s even a documentary chronicling those days of work between father and son) we have to be thankful that there’s still someone out there managing to turn out a quality product as the one presented by Ghibli always is, a heir of sorts. Of course, we will miss the magical and impressive-ness of the scope and magical wonder of the many animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, but there’s work to do here, there’s a company to maintain, and we can’t just cash in on the classics forever, we have to move forward and this is a nice step forward, if not just a tad bit dissapointing at the end. We can be sure that at least it maintains some kind of precious charm and beuaty that it’s always expected and received.

Up on Poppy Hill starts in a series of vast landscapes that show a busy coastside town in the mid 60’s, where ships surveyed the seas, along with the news and excitement regarding the olympics that would finally take place in Japan years after the end of WWII, demonstrating the power and advance of Japan, and in some way the film mirrors that moment of history for the people of Japan. There was a certain sense of the people in Japan, specially the government and official institutions that are in more connection with the people (Schools, Universities, Hospitals, Industries, etc.) were aiming to leave behind everything that meant tradition or old ways in terms of the ancient Japan, and welcomed more than ever what was new and deemed ‘occidental’ in one way or another, or just about everything that could erase the old ways (that were the ones being guilted over the loss at war, specially after the dismissal of the deity-God level of the Emperor of Japan). That is translated to the screen in one of the many plotlines that our main character is being immersed, the one where there is an old clubhouse near the school that is being demolished just because it’s old, and people try to save it.

Yet, as interesting as the duality of the japanese that is everpresent even to this day (the duality of modernism against the tradition), that is only one of the many dispersed elements that are in play here, and that’s the main problem here, there’s way too much and too little of it is really interesting… or I’d say that much of it is really interesting but never in a truly dramatic way, as they are handled really sloppily in terms of script and structure of the film itself, it still seems as if the script was in one of the early drafts (and maybe the fault is the manga in which this particular film is based, given the long-run of it, it may be more forgiving towards its plot points and their position), because here it seems like the classic conundrum of the beginner screenwriter: if this plot thread is climaxing, this one should do it at the same time so we have a double climax… it feels forced and just not interesting, specially when they are resolved so uninterestingly. Bob Clark has already written in his mini-review of this film that the clubhouse doesn’t really feel in danger at all, we know that when people who take care of the decissions see it, they won’t demolish it, but what the hell, it’s still Ghibli, right?

Yes, it’s still Ghibli, and that’s its saving grace. It’s precious landscapes and character design are something to simply marvel at, and you can see how the blood of the Miyazakis runs strong in the talent sort of way, specially when you see how Goro Miyazaki (Hayao’s son) managed to bring something really incredible in the visual and color palette available to the work showcased here. Now about the plot, we have a girl that misses her dead father, she always lifts up every morning a message in flagship-code that is quickly picked up by a kid that she knows from class and who works in a ship with his sailor father. Issues become a bit more… creepy when we find out the true origins of the kid, or at least we are told about them… but at the same time there’s little confrontation or problems subjected to the protagonists… but we won’t say that ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988) had no conflict until the end whatsoever if you don’t. But it’s not the actual lack of conflict that is troublesome, even if there isn’t, there’s certain emotions at play and the film plays them well, they do hit you in certain uncomfortable zones, and that isn’t something every film does… it is the dissapointing resolution more than anything else.

Do I recommend it? Sure! It’s Ghibli! You will have a good time with it, it’s great at moments, might be a bit stale at others, emotional always and a bit dissapointing at the end, but hey, we don’t get many of these year after year, we should be lucky we have a Miyazaki working at the Miyazaki house!


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