From Up on Poppy Hill (impressions)

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New York Times

7 March 2013

Inside Studio Ghibli's 'From Up on Poppy Hill'
Grounding a Romance in Memories

By Mekado Murphy

Audiences familiar with the films of the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli may be surprised to find no witches, forest spirits, wolf-goddesses or dragons in its latest production. “From Up on Poppy Hill” follows a more reality-based narrative — a budding romance between high school students, Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-language version) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) — reflecting a place and time in Japanese history: the port city of Yokohama in 1963, as preparations for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo are under way.

“Poppy Hill” is the second feature directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of the Studio Ghibli co-founder and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. And it is their most creative collaboration. The elder Mr. Miyazaki, with Keiko Niwa, adapted the screenplay from a 1980 graphic novel.

Despite a story steeped in reality, the younger Mr. Miyazaki aimed to create a Yokohama outside of photorealism. “Initially I researched it quite a bit, intending to be very faithful to the historical details of the time,” he said by phone from Los Angeles. “But I came to realize that simply re-enacting something of the time may seem real enough but may not necessarily be beautiful.” He decided instead to show the locations as his characters see them: shimmering and bustling with life.

Here Mr. Miyazaki explains the choices and inspirations involved in a Studio Ghibli film grounded in realism.

A Clubhouse of Clutter

One of the film’s centerpiece locations is a giant clubhouse, known as the Latin Quarter, under threat of demolition. This dusty, dilapidated site is home to many of the high school’s boys clubs. Here Umi and her sister Sora pay a visit and are overwhelmed by the degree and multiple levels of disarray. “I love what they’ve done with the place,” Umi says.

Mr. Miyazaki worked with a number of art directors who contributed ideas about the amalgamation of clutter in the house’s many rooms. He said it was the kind of mess familiar from his younger days.

“When you have young men congregating like that, what you generally have are pretty filthy spaces,” he said. “But it also represents the history behind that place. So what I tried to do with the design of the space was to look at the architecture of the building, but to also remember back to my college years and the clutter and filthiness that I lived through.”

Nostalgia’s Dusky Glow

In one scene Shun takes Umi on a bike ride into town as the sun is setting — one of their first extended moments together. Mr. Miyazaki said he recalled his younger days in painting Yokohama in warm tones.

“Of course we had certain archival materials to refer to, but the truth is that when I grew up, some of those sights still remained,” he said. “I remember that when the sun was setting, how that hit the town and how beautiful it was. I remember how dark certain parts of the town were, or the fact that they didn’t have fluorescent lights, but the more orange, warm glow of the lights at the time. I remember the way people were kind, instead of robotic.”

And Mr. Miyazaki did take some lessons from his father to heart for a scene like this.

“What Hayao Miyazaki often taught me is to not draw from photographs,” he said. “Because all I would produce is mimicry. You have to draw from your mind.”

Props Served Piping Hot

Home-cooked meals play a significant role in “Poppy Hill.” Umi is usually the one responsible for making meals at the boardinghouse where she lives with her grandmother, siblings and other residents. In an early scene she prepares rice and eggs for breakfast. In other scenes she shops for food. And the lunches she takes to school are the envy of her classmates: mouthwatering concoctions like an obento box, including cod roe, pickled plum, Japanese omelets and spinach with sesame dressing.

“To eat is to live, and animated characters can’t really come to life if they don’t feel alive,” Mr. Miyazaki said. “So eating was something I looked very closely at. How characters eat can tell you a lot about them. And while they’re eating, what they’re thinking at the time can be expressed too.”

Mr. Miyazaki included a number of eating scenes but said it wasn’t until he finished the film that he fully realized the importance of food in it.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 10, 2013, on page AR12 of the New York edition with the headline: Grounding a Romance in Memories.


5 June 2012

GKids plants N. American flag on 'Poppy Hill'
It will release latest toon from Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli in March

By John Hopewell, Elsa Keslassy

ANNECY -- New York-based indie animation distributor GKids has acquired North American rights to "From Up On Poppy Hill," the latest release from Japan's Studio Ghibli.

Hayao Miyazaki ("Castle in the Sky," "Spirited Away") wrote the screenplay. His son, Goro Miyazaki, directed. GKids will qualify "Poppy Hill" for 2013's Academy Awards and plans a March release.

Announced Tuesday by GKids prexy Eric Beckman at Gaul's Annecy Animation Film Festival, "Poppy Hill" builds on a September deal that gave GKids North American rights to 13 Studio Ghibli library titles. The retrospective has been touring major North American markets throughout 2012.

Set in 1963 Yokohama, "Poppy Hill" turns on a pair of high school students who are battling the demolition of a historic building as they deal with their own families' past secrets. "Poppy Hill" was the highest-grossing Japanese film of 2011, taking over $56 million.

Studio Ghibli is producing an English-language version, with Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall exec producing.

The deal is GKids' first release of a first-run Studio Ghibli film. Disney has been Ghibli's longterm U.S. distributor.

It follows a spate of toon acquisitions by GKids, including "Chico & Rita" and "A Cat in Paris," which snagged best animated feature Oscar nominations this year. GKids aims to increase its number of animated feature releases and the scale of releases, Beckman said.

"There is a huge U.S. indie distribution sector for adult audiences but nothing parallel for animation. That's the hole we're filling."

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