From up on Poppy Hill
Ghibli's latest work is one of their more down to earth pieces. This time the screenplay is co-authored by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, based on the manga by Tetsuro Sayama. It’s directed by Hayao’s son Goro, who co-wrote and directed the Disappointing Tales from Earthsea. I think he does a slightly better job here, it’s a screenplay that doesn’t lend itself so well to animation, but there are few flourishes to bring it to life. But it’s not one of the most interesting stories they’ve produced, but it does still have some endearing characters to carry enough interest. It does leave me slightly worried as to how well Goro will carry on his father’s legacy if he is to be carrying on with this for years to come. It’s a passable film, but in terms of their drama’s set largely in schools. The made for TV movie Ocean Waves does a better job.
A slightly different work from Ghibli, a film worked on by some of the more junior members of the Ghibli staff. They were given a chance by being asked to produce a made for TV movie. Although it still went over budget anyway. Still the shorter running time seems to really help this film as it tells a much tighter, more focused story. Aimed at a demographic they don’t go for as much - the teenage love triangle story and how a girl affects the friendship between two boys. It’s not able to have as strong an emotional impact as some of their major features, but what it aims to do, it does well. It seems a shame they’ve not done smaller films like this, as it allows them to try their hand at different styles.
Whisper of the Heart
A screenplay by Miyazaki but the only film to be directed by Yoshifumi Kondō who tragically died of an Aneurysm a few years after making this film. It was believed to be caused by work-related stress. And you can see from the film that he was a man who dedicated himself to his work, because it looks stunning even by Ghibli’s standards. Its story falls in-between the down to earth and the fantastical stories. So it has the strong resonant character driven drama, along with some of the more childish wonder. That description may give you the wrong impression, from what I’d read about it going in, I thought the main character Shizuku would enter a fantasy world at some point. All that actually happens is we see some small extracts from the book she’s writing. There’s a sense of some other magical things going on but they’re macguffins, albeit very effective macguffins.
When thinking about the Disney comparisons it occurred to me that the closest this film gets to a musical number is when the characters sit around at one point singing and playing instruments, performing a cover of “Country roads” which somehow manages to feel much more exciting and magical than any other Disney number that springs to mind. So this films goes somewhere near the top of my list for managing to combine many of the elements that Ghibli do so well. It feels different yet still does what they do best as well.
The Cat Returns
Loosely a sequel to Whisper of the Heart in that it heavily features The Baron from Whisper of the Heart. This is certainly one of the films aimed at a younger audience and it’s much more of an adventure story. It’s one that feels a little more ‘slight’ in comparison to their other works and it would probably be because it had been intended for a straight to video release. It’s the only film to be directed by Hiroyuki Morita. It may have had a similar intent behind it as Ocean Waves. The animation does look a little cheaper and simpler than the average Ghibli film but they were evidently impressed enough with it to give it a cinematic release. It does have a shorter, simpler running time. So it’s an enjoyable story, but not essential, one for people like me, who have become compelled to be completest. I think if there’ one problem with it, is it’s largely centred on a secret kingdom of cats. Which is cute and everything, but the internet has ruined cats for me. It does predate the proliferation of cat memes though, so that shouldn’t be held against it.