Masami Nagasawa

From Up On Poppy Hill

20/05/20

Netflix

In these troubled times, isn’t it great to have something dependable to tune in to? Looking through the crop of Studio Ghibli animations on Netflix, we find another one we failed to catch on its release. From Up on Poppy Hill first graced screens in 2011. It’s scripted by the legendary Hiyao Miyazaki, directed by his son, Gorô, and is set in the early 60s, when Japan was readying itself to host the Olympic Games. Unlike many Ghibli films, the setting (Yokohama) is authentically Japanese in just abut every detail.

Predictably, the story focuses on a plucky teenage girl. Umi (Masami Nagasawa) is a hardworking sixteen-year-old. Her father died during the Korean war and her mother, a medical professor, is away studying in America. So Umi is helping to run the family’s boarding house, cooking and cleaning whenever she’s not attending High School. It’s here that she first encounters, Shun (Jun’chi Okada), a fellow student. It’s clear from the outset that the two of them have an attraction.  Shun is an enthusiastic supporter of the school’s club house, the Quartier Latin, where various societies pursue their myriad interests. When the shabby old building where everything happens is threatened with demolition, Umi and Shun work together to try and avert disaster and, inevitably, their relationship deepens.

But a series of tragic events that occurred during the Korean war threatens to destroy any chance of a relationship between them…

This may not be one of Ghibli’s big-hitters but it’s nonetheless an appealing tale, sensitively told – and, as ever with this studio, the magic is all in the detail. There are some truly breathtaking images here, particularly in the depictions of the city at night; I especially enjoy a delightful extended sequence that begins just before twilight and effortlessly moves through a ravishing sunset and into the evening.

It’s true that the story’s resolution provides no great surprises but I like the realism of it, and the emotional clarity of the storytelling.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Your Name

15/01/20

We missed this smash hit by Makoto Shinkai on its release in 2016, but tonight’s double bill at the Cameo – pairing Your Name with his latest release, Weathering With You – gives us the opportunity to find out what the fuss was all about.

And wow. Each critical superlative, every bit of box-office lucre, is completely merited. Shinkai is, indeed, a worthy successor to Hayao Miyazaki, recently retired head of Studio Ghibli. This is a beautiful animation.

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is a teenage girl, living in the remote rural village of Itomori. Mitsuha feels stifled by her strict father, and by the ancient rituals she is obliged to follow. She dreams of being ‘a boy in Tokyo,’ with the freedom to do what she wants in a bustling city.

And sometimes, it seems, dreams can come true, because Mitsuha wakes up one day in an unfamiliar room – and body. She’s switched places with Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), and suddenly finds herself forced to negotiate the intricacies of a stranger’s life. Where is his school? Who are his friends? Mitsuha embraces the opportunity to hang out in café bars and flirt with Taki’s colleague, Ms Okudera (Masami Nagasawa), at his part-time restaurant job. She relishes the new experience.

Taki, meanwhile, is less enthusiastic about the change, although he can’t help enjoying playing with ‘his’ breasts, much to the outrage of Mitsuha’s younger sister, Yotsuha (Kanon Tani). Still, he goes along with it; what option does he have? And, before long, the teens have navigated a way through their intermittent body swaps, using their cell phones to log notes and reminders to keep things running (relatively) smoothly. I particularly like the way suspense is generated via a repeated motif where their lives almost collide.

So far, so seen-it-done-it-Freaky-Friday, but Shinkai’s movie has another layer, a deeper, more engaging heart, encompassing (without saying too much) fate, time travel and natural disaster. It’s compellingly told, with warmth and sincerity.

But it’s the animation that really makes this film. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, with a clear delineation between the hard lines of the city and the sumptuous, lush countryside. At times photo-realistic, at others impressionistic, each frame is perfect, each hand-drawn image exquisitely realised.

A masterpiece.

5 stars

Susan Singfield