From Up on Poppy Hill is a Ghibli film directed by Goro Miyazaki, I hate to say it, but it’s one that many people tend to shove under the mat, saying that it’s plot is clunky and could’ve been done better. And while I agree-yes, the two plot lines could’ve been woven together better and yes, the ending was rather dissatisfying, people tend to forget about something that this movie is outstanding in-setting.
Setting is where the story takes place, we spent a lot of our elementary school years answering the questions: who are the characters, what happens, and where is the setting. The setting is comprised of two components: where and when does this take place?
Now that’s obviously a very oversimplified version of what setting can really be. A good setting sets the tone for the whole movie. It is often a very overlooked part of any story to be told, and shouldn’t be neglected in anyway. It’s what immerses an audience into the story, and gives the whole movie it’s feel and vibe.
At the beginning of From Up on Poppy Hill, we immediately get the taste of the setting, in the first sequence: we understand that Umi’s parents aren’t around and that she is helping run the boarding house. In the next scene we see that they live near a bustling harbor. And we quickly understand the next important setting: the clubhouse that is about to be demolished.
Near the beginning of the movie, we get this lovely, five minute long sequence of Umi and her little sister Sora trying to walk through the clubhouse being barraged by strange club members, disgusted by the hanging laundry and amazed by the strange pulley systems set up-and we get a sense a strong sense of the Quartier Latin. It’s gross, cluttered, and falling apart but more importantly, it has so much charm. And that, sets the tone for the movie.
Where does this charm come from? Perhaps it’s the shining wood underneath all the dust, or the stained glass, or the fact that it’s a historical site. The answer is all of the above and one more: the characters. The clubhouse is inhabited by a population of (assumedly) all boys. We see them throughout the scenes, trying to protect their beloved clubhouse and continue to run the clubs of their interests. We see them, and we may not be necessarily introduced to each and every one, but we remember. We see them and think-hey, that’s the group of boys with the buzzcut that chant in unison. They aren’t the most liked in the school, as they are rowdy but they are very passionate. In the end, they are good people. And their passion sings throughout the clubhouse and I believe that without this cast of boys, the Quartier Latin wouldn’t have half the charm that it does.
Even so, the setting isn’t shoved in the viewer’s face. The main background of this story is hinted at. The true background is that the country is the next to host the Olympics and people are insisting on creating a new era of Japan. As a result of this, many historic sites are being replaced by newer, cleaner buildings. It is also a period marked by student rebellions, an explanation for the boisterous actions the boys take in order to save their clubhouse.
The city that the characters live in is so charming and lovely, from the warm soft colors, to the bustling background and cars that are driving through. I especially love the scene in which Shun gives Umi a ride down to the market, which effectively gives us a really good image of the kind of neighborhood they live in while advancing the plot by giving our two characters a chance to talk and connect. From the boarding house, the bike-car that Umi’s neighbor drives, the stove that Umi uses, all these elements give further character to the setting. It truly creates an environment in which we can get a taste of the time period they lived in, as well as one in which our characters can thrive in.
Even the music contributes well to the whole setting and tone of the movie as it creates a very genuine-feeling 60s environment. I honestly wouldn’t know what music really was in the 1960s, but I’m under the assumption that the soundtrack takes on the sound of the era. The film even uses a 1963 hit by Kyu Sakamoto, Ue o Muite Aruko, or better known as Sukiyaki, and for those who grew up in the 60s, this would definitely add nostalgia and makes it much more genuine. It is an absolutely lovely addition to the already great soundtrack.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post about setting and it’s use in From Up on Poppy Hill, which truly is a movie I enjoyed, and I hope that if you didn’t like it, you might see it in a different light. There were are other things about Poppy Hill that I’d love to discuss, but for the sake of focus and this post, I’ll leave it at this 🙂