“Poppy Hill” is directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. It tells the story of a young girl named Umi living in 1963 post-war Japan, a time when the country was evolving into what it has become today. Umi develops a romantic relationship with a boy named Shun, and together they fight to prevent the destruction of a historical landmark.
After Goro’s previous disaster of a film, “Tales From Earthsea”, many fans were worried about the fate of his sophomore project. I think “Poppy Hill” signifies a huge step in the right direction, while many others were not so fond of it.
People constantly bring attention to Goro’s lack of directorial experience, his lack of a unique artistic voice, and they always mention his father’s legacy.
All of this is rubbish.
1. Lack of directorial experience. This is such a harsh statement. Have you seen Hayao Miyazaki’s early work? It was not much better than “Poppy Hill”, and depending on your perspective on animation, it may even be considered worse. Goro, just like everyone else, needs the time to develop his skill at directing. This is his second film. Give him a break, people.
2. Lack of a unique artistic voice. Not only is this statement also harsh, but it is untrue as well. Just because his father’s artistic voice was more outspoken and at times blatantly obvious does not invalidate Goro’s voice, which I believe is much quieter and inconspicuous.
Take for example the stark contrast between Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastical adventures, and Goro’s tendency to move towards realism. Hayao Miyazaki can simply not make a film without at least one scene of action or fantasy. It is against his very nature. However, this is not the case with his son.
You could also look at their strikingly different ways of creating heroines. Miyazaki’s heroines are strong, bold, heroic, extroverted. Goro’s heroine Umi is thoughtful, quiet, good-natured, introverted, peaceful. Polar opposites. Goro does not lack a voice. His is just different from his father’s. I will admit that it is not quite as developed as his father’s voice is, but that does not mean that it is nonexistent.
3. His father’s legacy. This has been going on for years, all the way back to “The Cat Returns” if not even farther back than that. No one will ever be like Hayao Miyazaki. In order for Studio Ghibli to not end up like the travesty that Disney has ended up in, they need to strive for a new leader of Ghibli, not a Miyazaki copycat. I honestly believe that Goro is the perfect candidate for the job. In my humble opinion, any other person would be a mistake. Fortunately, I also believe that Hayao Miyazaki realizes this himself. It is mainly just the general public who thinks otherwise.
Now that I have stated my defense of Goro Miyazaki, I would like to say a few things about his film.
The concept behind “Poppy Hill” is the idea that if you “worship the future and forget your past”, you are doomed to fail. This heavy-handed statement is embedded inside what is essentially a romantic period film. While the idea itself seems influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s generation, the presentation of it is definitely Goro’s work.
The fact that Umi’s father has passed away fits perfectly, considering Goro’s mostly negative and distanced relationship with his own father. Her contemplative, gentle personality also syncs well with the personality of Goro. While his father was much more ambitious, with more of a “go big or go home” type of attitude, Goro is content with simply expressing himself in a pure form. He has only made two films, one a failure, and I already relate to Goro more than his father. How can people say that he does not have a voice? If he does not have voice, then how did he speak to me?
The films’s score was a total shock for fans of Joe Hisaishi’s work with Miyazaki. Goro’s taste in music is jazzier and much more upbeat, with a greater emphasis on vocal works. “Poppy Hill”, just like Goro’s previous film, features a song by Aoi Teshima. Teshima’s voice works really well with Goro’s style. Could this be the beginning of a career long artistic relationship?
Visually, “Poppy Hill” was a little weak. The animation was not bad, but it was not spectacular by any means. “Whisper of the Heart”, an earlier Ghibli film with similar themes, was made over a decade ago and it actually looks better to my eyes. This is not completely Goro’s fault, as time and budget constraints must be considered as well. This is only his sophomore film. I would expect that Ghibli gave him a much smaller budget than they would for Hayao Miyazaki.
In regards to the story, there were a few pacing issues here and there, but overall I thought it was very well done. I feel as if some people left the theater disappointed, probably expecting something more dramatic. I think it is disrespectful to assume that the creators of a film will appeal to your individual desires. Art is an expression of the person who makes it. It is not meant to please you. It is meant to please the artist. People need to learn to respect the artist. I for one am glad that Goro was willing to show me his world. If you want a lame movie that is designed specifically to appease the masses, go watch a Disney film.
Concerning my time at the theater, I must express my amazement at the people who, like myself, stay present in the theater until the credits have ended. They even kept the lights dimmed. How cool is that? I hate how people just get up and leave right when the first credit appears. People do realize that the credits are part of the movie, right? The music has to be composed for it, so an artist is involved. Not only that, but it is a time to show your respect for the people who created it. These people spent several years of their life creating a film that lasts a little under two hours in length. Can you not give them a couple more minutes of you time?
I think that is about all I have to say, pertaining to this film at least. I could rant for a few more paragraphs about how much I hate how modern artists are so disrespected, but I will refrain from that for now.