Now that we’ve learned a tantalising lesson in delayed gratification, the UK DVD and Blu-ray release of Studio Ghibli’s From Up On Poppy Hill finally happens today. It’s not one of the studio’s fantasy pieces, but does fit pretty comfortably into their brand of melancholy memoir, comparing well to Ocean Waves or Only Yesterday.
I was really rather won over by the film – much as I was by the other two I mention – and director Goro Miyazaki certainly seems to have gotten over the teething troubles that beset Tales From Earthsea.
Recently, I was able to have an e-mail exchange with Miyazaki and I can now share that conversation with you. What follows are the questions I sent him, and the answers that came by reply, all of it verbatim – translation notwithstanding.
The film’s story seems to make parallels between the events facing our main characters and those facing Japan as a whole country at the same time. How much were you concerned about this parallel?
No one can escape being affected by the period they are living in. I am interested in how people lived, how they can live in the period in question. I want to portray how each little individual lives within the big picture.
And does this parallel mean that the film is political?
I did not intend to include a direct political message. However, I think that we Japanese have both consciously and unconsciously tried to disconnect from the past since the period of rapid economic growth. And we have lost a great deal because of that. However, the present is built on the past and those of us who are living now are not free from the past. We need to direct our attention to our own history, the history of our families, our relatives, our society and our state (no matter how terrible) and I thought about how we should not forget while I was making From Up On Poppy Hill.
The film has a sense of nostalgia. How interested were you in creating this feeling, and why did you want the film to feel this way?
I wasn’t particularly curious about feelings of nostalgia. I only wanted to portray a girl who lived at that time. However, for me, this period 50 years ago is a past that is in our shared memories. So I think it is natural that we feel nostalgic. If it had been set during the time when there were samurais, I don’t think even the Japanese audience would have felt nostalgic. What is interesting to me is that people in the UK also feel a sense of nostalgia in a film set in the Japan of 50 years ago.
In the West this film seems most likely to play best to an older audience – certainly older than the lead characters at least. Is this also true in Japan? And what kind of audience did you feel you were making the film for?
It’s true that I didn’t aim for an audience of young children. But I think that teenagers will be perfectly able to understand it and that is the kind of audience I was thinking about when I was making it. I don’t want to always be making films for people my own age or older. I also want to make films for people who are younger than me and children. Many of the films from Studio Ghibli have similar, though certainly not identical, design styles.
Did you discuss how much your film would “look like a Studio Ghibli film”? Or how much it would “belong” to the studio’s canon of work?
We never talked about that. I would go as far as to say that it is the group’s shared values that create Studio Ghibli films.
Making an animated movie requires great patience and forethought. Please explain to me the particular skills that are tested in slowly creating on story, step by step, over several years in this way.
From Up On Poppy Hill took about a year and a half from planning to completion. So, it would be more accurate to say that I groped about for the story during production rather than spending years perfecting it. I don’t have any particular skills but the one thing I can do is to see how far I can get into the world of the film.
I am impatient so I keep thinking that I need to have more perseverance and I always think, ‘If only I had great vision…’
What project are you working on at the moment? And what will we learn about you when we see it?
I can’t talk about it yet. You will probably see me completely exhausted by the time it is finished!
Though Miyazaki’s father may be retiring, there are still many talented filmmakers working at Studio Ghibli. I’m glad to be able to inclue Miyazaki junior on that list.
From Up On Poppy Hill is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK right now. It’s certainly recommended.