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Anime / From Up on Poppy Hill

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"It seems the whole country is eager to get rid of the old and make way for the new.
But some of us aren't so ready to let go of the past."

From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara/コクリコ坂から) is a 2011 Studio Ghibli film by director Goro Miyazaki. It is Goro Miyazaki's second film for Studio Ghibli. In contrast to his first work, Tales from Earthsea, his new effort was rather well received. It's based on the 1980s manga series Kokuriko-zaka kara by Tetsuo Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi.

The heroine, Umi Matsuzaki (voiced by Masami Nagasawa), is a high school girl in Yokohama of 1963. From her home on Poppy Hill overlooking the bay, she raises flag signals every morning meaning "I pray for safe voyages". One day, she receives an answer, as it turns out, from Shun Kazama (Junichi Okada), one class above her.

In preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and following in step with an economic boom, Japan is quickly modernizing amidst growing student movements and social unrest, often razing the old to make way for the modern. At Umi's school, the old building of the Culture Club, nicknamed "Quartier Latin" by the students, is scheduled to be torn down. Can the students, including Umi and Shun, really do anything against this decision?

The film also stars Keiko Takeshita as Hana Matsuzaki, Yuriko Ishida as Miki Hokuto, Jun Fubuki as Ryōko Matsuzaki, Takashi Naito as Yoshio Onodera, Shunsuke Kazama as Shirō Mizunuma, Nao Ōmori as Akio Kazama and Teruyuki Kagawa as Tokumaru.

Disney didn't want to release it because of certain themes the movie touches upon, including incest, and they have a strict "no cuts" agreement with Ghibli which meant they couldn't edit any part of the movie, which left the job to GKIDS as their first Ghibli film. Eventually, a dubbed version was released into American theaters March 2013, with a DVD and Blu-Ray release following that fall.

This film provides examples of:

  • The '60s: The time period the film is set in, amplified by real songs from that decade being part of the film's soundtrack, such as "Sukiyaki". The oncoming 1964 Tokyo Olympics also serves as a backdrop.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film is set in 1963 and most of the songs featured are from around that time period, but the ending theme, "Summer of Farewells", wasn't released until 1976.
  • Beta Couple: Downplayed. Umi's little sister Sora may have first intended to get Shun's autograph, but very quickly takes an interest in Shirou Mizunuma.
  • Big Eater: Umi's brother, Riku. Sachiko's portions at meals are pretty hefty too.
  • Big Heroic Run: Towards the end, Umi and Shun race to find an old friend of their father.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Umi's dead father leads to revelations with Shun
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Zig-zagged. Let's break this down:
    • Shun was adopted, and discovers he and Umi shared a father, Sawamura, who died on a supply ship during the Korean War, because they both have a picture of him with two other men, and his father affirms that Shun was adopted when Sawamura asked them.
    • After some confused attempts to make distance between them, he tells Umi what he knows and the two conclude that although they love each other, their siblinghood makes any romantic relationship impossible.
    • However, on their way back from Tokyo, Umi declares her continuing love for him and he admits he still reciprocates, even if they can't pursue a relationship.
    • Back home it turns out that Umi's mother has arrived for a visit, and in conversation about the photo and Shun, reveals that Shun's real father is Tachibana, a second man in the photo, who died on a repatriation ship after World War 2. When Tachibana's wife died giving birth to Shun and their immediate relatives died in Nagasaki, Sawamura legally registered him into his family so he wouldn't be lost as an orphan in the chaos of post World War 2 Japan. For practical reasons (given that he was a sailor and his wife a pregnant medical student), he soon decided to give him up to the Kazamas, who had recently lost a child.
    • After confirming all this with the third man in the photo, Onodera, just before he sets sail, the two are relieved to NOT be siblings and free to pursue a relationship without obstacle.
  • Character Tics: How Mizunuma checks his wristwatch, establishing him as a careful planner.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Early in the movie, a family friend offers Umi a lift to school, but she chooses to walk. During the film's climax, she and Shun accost him for a ride to the harbor, but traffic means he again won't get her where she needs to go.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Sachiko, the absentminded art student living with the Matsuzakis. When Sora calls Shun a "live wire" she assumes that he's an electrician's son, and asks if beef jerky is made of pork.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: At Umi's school, the girls wear differently-colored scarves with their Sailor Fuku to indicate which grade they're in; first-years wear green scarves, second-years wear red scarves, and third-years wear blue scarves.
  • Cool Car: Just the cars in the general background are of iconic designs from The '60s and The '50s (perhaps even earlier), including Chairman Tokumaru's black Toyopet (which, in case you hadn't guessed, later changes its name to Toyota).
  • Cry into Chest: Umi bursts into tears exactly twice, once with each parent. The first is during a tragic dream where both her parents are present, and the second is when Umi is informed that she and Shun may not in fact be siblings after all.
  • Cue the Rain: Right before the Second-Act Breakup.
  • Disappeared Dad: Both Umi and Shun have these with both their fathers passed away during a mission.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Played with. After Umi reads the poem about her flags, a classmate who fancies himself The Spock rather callously claims that someone responding to her flags "just doesn't calculate". As he walks off (never to be important again), he's called a Math Club Freak and it's mentioned he's one of the clubhouse denizens. The moment adequately establishes not any particular character, but the fact that there's a clubhouse and the very negative opinion most girls have of it.
  • "Everybody Helps Out" Denouement: The male and female students put their differences aside and band together to fix up and save the club house / the people of Yokohama band together to help Umi and Shun make it to the harbor in time to speak with a ship's officer who has important information about their shared past.
  • Everyone Can See It: Between Umi and Shun.
  • Family Theme Naming: Umi and her siblings Sora and Riku's names respectively mean "sea", "sky" and "land".
  • Funny Background Event: The chairman visits the clubhouse, he asks the astronomy club what they've discovered. The student's answer "That the sun is very old and our lives are very short." Behind the chairman, the principal is very obviously facepalming in the background. The principal once again wears an extremely sardonic expression when the chairman announces that Quartier Latin will be preserved.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Umi is rarely seen without them.
  • Good Old Ways: The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo has split the country practically down the middle, with one faction practically champing at the bit to abandon the old ways and the other clinging desperately and refusing to dispense with their history and identity. Shun Kazama has no problem with the future, but insists that it can't be properly achieved without first knowing the past. Of course, his own past has quite the bumpy ride for him in store.
  • Gratuitous French: There are a few examples:
    • Umi is nicknamed "Meru", which is taken from "mer", the French word for "sea". This alludes to how Umi's real name also means "sea" in Japanese.
    • The clubhouse's official name is "Quartier Latin", as written above the door.
    • The original Japanese title, Kokuriko-zaka Kara, is also an example; "Kokuriko" is a transliteration of "coquelicot", a French term for the corn poppy.
  • Happily Adopted: Shun, but it turns out not fathered by the man he thought.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • Umi is nicknamed "Meru" after la mer ("sea" in French) since her real name also means "sea" in Japanese. This was completely left out of the official English dub and subtitles, so it can be a bit confusing to hear other characters call her by a different name than what the subtitles indicate.
    • Sachiko Hirokouji, the art student living at Umi's boarding house, is nicknamed "Hiro-chan" by the other residents.
  • Irony: Meta example: The opening credit lists Walt Disney Japan as one of the producers, but because of the subject matter, Disney refused to release it in the US. (It was released by GKIDS instead.)
  • Large Ham: The philosophy club guy; his every line is delivered as loudly and theatrically as possible. Quite literally too, he's at least a head taller than everyone else.
    • Arguably, most of the boys in Quartier Latin could be this, judging by their meetings.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Shun Kazama heavily resembles Umi's father Yuichirou Sawamura. In the Japanese version, he even has the same voice actor, Junichi Okada. Subverted when it turns out Yuichirou is only Shun's temporary adoptive father.
  • Lost in Translation: The English dub has the ham radio club saying in Canadian-inflected English "We are high-school students. FROM JAPAN!!", while the original has them speaking in stereo-typically Japanese inflected English. Ham radio usage in a high-school club is a good device for evoking the time period; the Japanese version pushes that nostalgia button perfectly, but would have sounded really really jarring in the dub.
  • Love Letter: In the form of a short poem in the school newspaper.
  • Manly Tears: Again, the Philosophy Club guy tries to evoke this. But early on he goes over to Inelegant Blubbering.
  • Men Can't Keep House: The all-male-occupied Quartier Latin is filthy. The cleanup effort requires an army of Joshikousei. Some of the girls are even more competent at construction work like plastering.
  • Morning Routine: It starts with Umi making breakfast for the rest of the household, doubling as a Establishing Character Moment.
  • No Antagonist: In this film, there's no direct antagonist threatening the heroes. The conflict comes from Umi and Shun figuring out their relationship.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Chairman Tokumaru is modeled after the late Studio Ghibli co-founder and Tokuma Shoten president Yasuyoshi Tokuma.
  • Parental Abandonment: Neither Umi's nor Shun's birth parents are around, most are dead. Umi lives with her grandmother, Shun with his adoptive parents. Subverted later in the film when Umi's mother returns from America, and it's implied that she'll be staying for longer after that.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A non-fatal example, but a lot of Umi's and Shun's problems would have been prevented if Umi's father told his friend that Shun was NOT his biological son when he gave him the newborn. In his defense, it's ludicrous to assume anyone saw this fiasco coming.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Chairman Tokumaru, who jokes with Mizunuma, Shun, and Umi about their playing hooky to meet him in Tokyo and ultimately allows Quartier Latin to remain standing. This is in stark contrast to the Isogo High principal, who tries to go forward with demolishing Quartier Latin despite an impressive student-run remodeling effort and the student population swinging from 80% for demolition to a majority against.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Umi's parents decided to give the newborn Shun to a couple who lost their child. The couple loved Shun right away.
  • The Reveal: Shun was given to the Kazamas by Yuichirou Sawamura, Umi's father. Yuichirou actually had Shun adopted and registered as part of his family to keep him out of an orphanage after the boy's real father, Hiroshi Tachibana, was killed.
  • Sailor Fuku: Being set in the 1960s, the uniforms at Umi's high school are the classic sailor fuku for the girls and the gakuran for the boys.
  • Scenery Porn: It's Studio Ghibli, though the hills are covered by buildings, not grass.
  • Shipper on Deck: The entire school is all for Shun/Umi.
  • Slice of Life: Covering a few weeks in 1963 Japan.
  • Student Council President: Shiro Mizunuma is the leader of the student council at Isogo High School.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The chemistry club causes an explosion as an Establishing Character Moment.
  • Surprise Incest: Invoked and subverted.
  • Tears of Joy: Umi cries heavily after her mother reveals to her Shun's background which proves they are not related by blood.
  • Theme Naming: Umi (sea) and her siblings Riku (land) and Sora (sky). Umi's is especially notable given her connections to sailors.
  • Theme Tune Extended:
    • "The Breakfast Song" was originally written with six verses and two choruses, but only the first stanza and the first chorus is used in the film proper.
    • "In the Days of First Love" also had five verses, but the first two verses are used in the film proper.
    • Likewise, "The Indigo Waves" was originally two verses long, but only the first stanza is used.
    • The ending theme "Summer of Farewells" only uses the first and third verses of the song in the film. The "Song Collection" and "Maxi Single" albums each have a version with all three verses.
  • Trash of the Titans: The interior of Quartier Latin practically counts as Scenery Gorn. It's implied that the building has never been cleaned. Well, until Umi teams up with Shun and Shiro to help clean it for Tokumaru at least...
  • Troubled Fetal Position: What Umi does in her bed after the revelation that Shun could be her brother.
  • True Companions: Umi's father Yuichirou Sawamura was excellent friends with two other men, Hiroshi Tachibana and Yoshio Onodera. Yuichirou impulsively adopted the late Hiroshi's son Shun but ended up giving him away to another couple. It's the still living Yoshio who confirms Shun and Umi are in fact Not Blood Siblings.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Umi and Shun at one point in the movie. Unfortunately, this is followed by their Second-Act Breakup...
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: The extreme crowding in the elevator in Tokyo forces Umi and Shun to press up their whole bodies against each other, which is extremely awkward due it following on the heels of their Second-Act Breakup.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Downplayed. The clubhouse may have dozens of clubs, but that doesn't mean they get along together in the slightest. The Philosophy and Chemistry clubs are in particular at odds with one another.