From Up on Poppy Hill – Review ★★★


As a group of Japanese teens in Yokohama try to save their school’s antique clubhouse from demolition by a modernising capitalist in preparation for the Olympic Games in 1964, the wide-eyed heroine Umi is recruited to help the cause by one of the leading activist boys, Shun.

The boys are all macho gung ho, but Umi has the girly and great idea to prettify the decaying clubhouse to impress politicians to get them to intervene and save the building. Umi and Shun, bit by bit, eventually fall for each other, but that may be a terrible mistake.

This 2011 animation from Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) and scripted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, is a bright, sweet and charming mix of nostalgia, good spirit, love story, family saga and conservation message. With no supernatural stuff or violence anywhere in sight, it’s maybe a bit mild and non-earth-shattering. But, it’s really kind of cute, likeable and appealing. A good thing, in fact.

It’s easy and pleasant just to sit there for an hour and a half, enter another world, and let the striking visuals, fun characters, involving situations and earnest moral wash over you, and let the film’s warm heart and good nature see it through to its inevitable happy ending.

There’s a choice of the English language (with the voices of Sarah Bolger and Anton Yelchin) or original Japanese version with sub-titles. I’d go for the latter any time.

Derek Winnert is a leading UK film critic and author working for Vue Cinemas, Shortlist, Onemetal, ILoveMediaCity, cubed3, Letterboxd, Universal Film Magazine, UK Film Review, jonesyinc, The Void, Celebritext and the Film Review annual. He’s also worked for TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail. A member of the London Critics Circle, he is the author of The Virgin Encyclopedia of the Movies, The Film & Video Guide and a biography of Barbra Streisand.