From up on Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から, Kokuriko-zaka Kara)
1963. Umi Matsuzaki is a young girl living in a house overlooking Yokohama harbour. She is a busy and diligent girl who seems popular at school. One day, through the actions of the boys in her school, she meets and slowly strikes up a casual relationship with Shun, a boy who is trying to save the school’s clubhouse. Umi is a lonely girl, missing her mother who is studying in America and longing for her father, who died in the Korean War. Through her friendship with Shun she becomes a main figure in trying to save the clubhouse and also must face some family secrets of her own.
From up on Poppy Hill is one of Studio Ghibli’s ‘realistic’ films, in as much that there are no talking frogs, pilot pigs, witches or even racoons with prominent testicles. It’s a simple story told with care and attention. This is Miyazaki Hayao’s son Goro’s second film he has directed for his father’s company and undoubtedly his best. This kind of film is Ghibli doing what they do best: telling rich stories about families and communities pulling together. While not a stand out classic of the great company, still a fine achievement.
My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, Tonari no Totoro)
Two sisters move into a new house in the countryside with their father while their mother is in a nearby hospital being treated for an unnamed illness. Very soon after moving in they realise the house is haunted with magical creatures, but rather than eschewing the spirits they welcome them and, before long they meet and fall in love with Totoro.
My Neighbour Totoro was Studio Ghibli’s third film (It shared a double bill with Grave of the Fireflies, which must be one of the greatest double bills of all time) and has become its international mascot. It is one of the purest and most innocent films you will ever see. Over the years since it’s release it has become more than a film. It seems more akin to a classic children’s novel. The relationships in the film are so natural and convincing; The two sisters whilst playing have such an instinctive and authentic love you believe they would do anything for each other. The animation is beautifully developed. Everything from the family’s house to the grass in the garden to Totoro’s lair is meticulously drawn by hand with incredible attention to detail. The scene with the two girls and Totoro in the rain at the bus stop has become symbolic of Ghibli’s style and is still a stand out piece of animation and stands alongside some of the best animated and live action scenes in the history of film. One to watch if you love life, films or animation.