From Up on Poppy Hill (reviews - page 1)

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20 December 2011

From Up on Poppy Hill

Review by Andrew Osmond

Synopsis: From Up On Poppy Hill

It's Yokohama, 1963. Each morning a girl on a high hilltop hoists signal flags to greet the ships in the bay below. She is Umi Matsuzaka, a sensible, responsible girl, who disapproves of the antics of the boys in her school. She especially disapproves of their bold ringleader, Shun, when he inadvertently embarrasses her. Nonetheless, Umi is drawn into the boys' campaign to preserve a dilapidated club house and finds herself warming to Shun, sensing a strength of character like her own. But their friendship and save-the-clubhouse campaign will be severely tested, in ways to make Umi and Shun question who they are…

Review:

For more than a decade, the world's most famous anime studio has been associated with fantasy stories, usually epic and spectacular (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) though sometimes told on a smaller scale (The Cat Returns, The Secret World of Arrietty). However, back in the '90s, Studio Ghibli made several “slice of life” dramas – tales of ordinary life - often of a boy-meets-girl type. From Up On Poppy Hill fits that category, while at the same time it's a period drama, set in 1963 Yokohama.

Before getting into the film, though, there's something to get out of the way first. Studio Ghibli's name has been a mark of quality since the studio began. That reputation was dented by Tales from Earthsea (2006), a critically-panned version of the Earthsea novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao, who came away with a “Worst Director” prize from Japanese critics. If Ghibli's name is a mark of quality, then Goro's is a liability.

Poppy Hill, like Earthsea, is directed by Goro Miyazaki, but it bears no resemblance to Earthsea. (If Goro had made Poppy Hill under a pseudonym, it's hard to imagine anyone could've guessed.) Perhaps Poppy Hill's co-writer made all the difference. Hayao Miyazaki himself helped adapt the story, which was based on a 1980 shojo manga by Tetsuro Samaya and Chizuru Takahashi. Whether or not Miyazaki Senior's presence made the difference, Poppy Hill feels like a fresh start, as pointed up from the first scenes.

From its beginning, Poppy Hill has a jaunty spring in its step. A jazzy soundtrack (by Ghibli newcomer Satoshi Takebe) accompanies the industrious girl protagonist Umi, as she performs her morning chores with expert efficiency. Rarely are Poppy Hill's characters not in motion: hurrying, running, cycling, climbing. For example, one conversation takes place between Umi and the boy Shun as they hasten up flights of stairs at school. It's a “mundane” scene, but as so often in anime, especially Ghibli's, the mundane becomes special when it's realised in moving drawings.

There are two plots in Poppy Hill, one personal, one communal. The personal plot is (unsurprisingly) girl meets boy, mostly from Umi's viewpoint. At first she's affronted by the bold Shun, then slowly realises that, hey, she likes him. As teen romances go, it's more formal than those in many anime. Both Umi and Shun have a strong sense of propriety and responsibility (there was a cuter slice-of-life romance in Ghibli's 1995 film, Whisper of the Heart.) Then an unwelcome development jeopardises the pair's relationship, a plot point that's had some critics write the film off as a midlist melodrama. Unfortunately, it's impossible to discuss in detail without spoiling the story.

Meanwhile, the communal plot revolves round the student campaign to save a dilapidated French club house. Early on, Umi and her sister venture into the cluttered, lively, mysterious space, down corridors and up stairs (the sequence is reminiscent of the bathhouse scenes in Spirited Away.) The building is imbued with a group, collective spirit. In the first scenes, it's the spirit of the boys who've turned the clubhouse into their private geeky domain. Later on, though, girls enter the building too, wielding mops and brooms while the males cower before them.

Ghibli often frames its protagonists against communities. In Poppy Hill though, the community predominates. The liveliest scenes show the male students joyfully brawling one moment, then linking arms and singing in jolly solidarity, while the girls look on bemused. For all their personal problems, Umi and Shun are shown becoming part of the greater save-the-clubhouse movement. In effect, the couple's unfolding story becomes a symbol for the clubhouse one. Both strands, it turns out, are about people needing to reclaim or preserve continuity with their own history.

Despite the boisterous life of the crowd scenes, the film's presentation is unassuming. Ghibli fans watching Poppy Hill's early scenes with a sceptical eye may find them static-looking and cut-price beside the studio's megabusters. The same sceptics may also get irritated by the characters' mouths, which look off-puttingly round and red when they speak. There are few standout moments of character animation, though a late scene between Umi and her mother is very tender. Shun and Umi aren't greatly charismatic, but they're presented with a respect unusual for anime youngsters, and enough life to shake off any stuffiness.

Like many Ghibli films, it's the detail and strength of Poppy Hill's drawn world, the feeling of inhabiting it, which lures the viewer in. The town streets and stalls have the pleasurable bustle we expect from Ghibli, though the lack of fantasy means the film can feel like one of the old World Masterpiece Theatre TV anime, to which Ghibli's founders contributed. There's a sweet moment in Poppy Hill when Umi and Shun careen downhill on a bicycle, the dynamic image playfully expressing the youngsters' feelings. Later, there's a beautiful expressionist sequence when Shun learns troubling facts about who he is while riding a boat through Yokohama's harbour, white fog erasing its familiar landmarks.

The film has been written down in some quarters as being bland and forgettable, but its modesty and formality has a quiet strength to it. Poppy Hill may look old-fashioned, but it's likely to age gracefully through the decades, like the rest of Ghibli's library.

The film has a simple but vividly shown message, that the young of Japan, acting together, can achieve things, that they can broadcast their views to the wider world and the older generation. In Poppy Hill's last act, the characters must travel into Tokyo to get their views heard. This cues a lovingly detailed Ghibli vision of the capital a half-century ago, but it also shows the youngsters' thrill (mixed with frustrations) as they enter the political process for the first time. The finale is theatrically contrived, with a ridiculous race against time for Shun and Umi; but if Papa Miyazaki got away with importing a Hindenburg-style airship catastrophe in Kiki's Delivery Service, then why not?

Boston Globe

4 April 2013

‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is lesser Miyazaki

By Ty Burr

The news that a new Miyazaki movie has arrived on these shores is usually cause for delirium tremens in animaniacs and joy in knowledgeable children and their parents. In the case of “From Up on Poppy Hill,” though, expectations should be tempered, for it’s a Miyazaki movie quite literally in name only. While the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki co-wrote and served on the creative team for this manga-derived romantic drama, his son Goro directed. The film’s perfectly fine, but it’s not a patch on “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” and other Studio Ghibli classics.

Falling squarely in the shoujo genre of comics and anime aimed at teenage girls, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is set in Yokohama in 1962, as Japan is readying to host the Summer Olympics in nearby Tokyo. Modernity is just around the corner and up the bay, but not yet in the prewar buildings and social customs of the film’s homey neighborhoods. Umi — voiced by actress Sarah Bolger in a well-done English language dub overseen by Hollywood high-rollers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy — helps run her grandmother’s boardinghouse high above Yokohama Harbor. The girl’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) is off studying in America, and her father, a ship captain, is presumed dead in the Korean War. Every day, though, Umi raises signal flags in the hope that they will guide him home.

Most of “From Up on Poppy Hill” is set at Umi’s school and in the Latin Quarter, a tumbledown building that houses the boys’ various after-school clubs. Here the philosophy and archeology clubs — one and two members, respectively — trade barbs, and here the school newspaper is edited by the dreamy daredevil Shun (Anton Yelchin), who coaxes the shy Umi out of her shell.

The school administration wants to tear down the Latin Quarter; the boys, and then the girls, rally to save it; nothing new here. But the scenes at grandma’s boardinghouse have a charming sisterly vibe, with Umi mentored by doctor Miki (Gillian Anderson), bohemian artist Sachiko (Aubrey Plaza), and bubbly Saori (Christina Hendricks). While the scenes at school stick to Japanese gender roles of the period, home in this movie is where the empowerment is.

About two-thirds of the way in, a family secret complicates the romance between Umi and Shun, and “From Up on Poppy Hill” takes a turn for the very mildly kinky (for American audiences only, not by the baroque standards of shoujo). The tone is playful but fundamentally earnest as it honors a young girl’s growing pains. Anime fans will know what I mean when I say the movie plays like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” without the time travel.

What really marks “From Up on Poppy Hill” as a Ghibli project is its nostalgic reverence for a past disappearing under modernity’s bulldozer. The colorfully sleepy streets of Yokohama contrast with the gray concrete of a visit to Tokyo, and the debate over the destiny of the Latin Quarter is phrased precisely in terms of cherished tradition versus a gleaming and soulless future. “Poppy Hill” doubtless plays most strongly to Japanese audiences — especially the musical score made up of old-timey jazz and early-’60s pop that sounds like corn syrup to Western ears — but its central conflict is gentle, unyielding, and universal. Which is to say that it turns out to be a Hayao Miyazaki movie after all.

Chicago Tribune

28 March 2013

Goro Miyazaki follows in his father's path in 'Poppy Hill'

Michael Phillips
Movie critic

Is any animated feature produced by the Japanese treasure known as Studio Ghibli, responsible for "Spirited Away," "Ponyo" and others, capable of capturing a mass American audience's attention? Good question, especially in a box-office cycle dominated by "The Croods." So let's get it out of the way. The answer is, maybe not. There. Now we can talk about "From Up on Poppy Hill," one of the shimmering highlights of the year.

Like "Ponyo" and last year's "The Secret World of Arrietty," "From Up on Poppy Hill" has arrived here in a slightly revised English-language edition. The voices are provided by a cast including Gillian Anderson, Aubrey Plaza, Jamie Lee Curtis and, more central to the narrative, Sarah Bolger and Anton Yelchin. Hayao Miyazaki adapted the script from the 1980 manga, or graphic novel. Miyazaki's son, Goro, directed "Poppy Hill," and in the story's realistic setting (Yokohama, 1963) and absence of supernatural elements, it's a marked departure for the studio. And yet the glide and flow of the story feel not quite of this world.

The heroine, Umi, lives in and manages a boardinghouse overlooking the harbor. Her mother is away studying in the U.S.; her father was a casualty of the Korean war, lost at sea. Each day Umi raises flags wishing seafarers safe passage. A boy at her school, Shun, writes a poem for the school paper about her. The ragtag all-male newspaper staff resides in joyously messy surroundings in a dilapidated but marvelous building, also housing the archaeology club and the philosophy club and a few others, known as the Latin Quarter.

It's scheduled for demolition, and one aspect of "Poppy Hill" deals with how Umi and Shun mount a save-the-dump-we-love campaign among their fellow students, while they gradually become friends, then innocently smitten, and then ... well, then, the girl and the boy learn that they may be half-siblings. (One of them reacts: "It's like a cheap melodrama!") And Shun, wrestling discreetly with his tangled feelings, says there is only one way to combat their heartache: "I guess we stop feeling how we feel."

The way this potentially tragic plot development is handled, you know "Poppy Hill" has the surest of touches. Screenwriter Miyazaki acknowledged this tricky revelation in his initial proposal, reassuring his future audience that "there won't be any shinju (double suicide) pacts." There's something wonderful and sane in the way "Poppy Hill" allows Umi and Shun their mixed-up feelings for each other; the film, like its key characters, is at once childlike and grown-up. There's a similar paradox at work in the visual design's blend of modernity — Tokyo's imminent hosting of the 1964 Olympics sets the tone — and the timeless appeal of tugboats chugging on the water, and flags flapping in the breeze.

Like some of the nuttier Shakespeare romances, "Poppy Hill" revels in coincidence, dawning sexuality and an ardent belief in the power of goodness. It's pure of heart, in other words. It's also extremely winning in its depiction of a student population discovering its collective freedom. The Miyazakis' picture, which makes lovely use of the chart-topping early '60s hit "I Shall Walk Looking Up" (known in the U.S. as "Sukiyaki"), takes everything it should take seriously. It does so with a light touch — another paradox, and another reason I liked it even better than the last couple of formidable Studio Ghibli efforts. Gary Rydstrom oversaw the English-language version of "Poppy Hill," with evident care and love. Your kids may well fall in love with it, if you help them find it.

Christian Science Monitor

29 March 2013

'From Up on Poppy Hill,' an animated film by Miyazaki's son Goro, is a must-see

'From Up on Poppy Hill,' which follows the romance between a lonely teenager and her dashing classmate, is the exception in an industry where family entertainment is often bland.

By Peter Rainer

“From Up on Poppy Hill” is a delicately beautiful hand-drawn animated movie directed by Goro Miyazaki and written by his father, Hayao, perhaps the world’s greatest movie imagineer. Set in Yokohama in 1963, it’s about Umi (voiced in the English version by Sarah Bolger), a lonely teenager who falls for Shun (Anton Yelchin), a dashing classmate whose family history proves an impediment to their romance.

Although simpler and less mysterious than the great Hayao Miyazaki movies, the gently melancholic “From Up on Poppy Hill” is still a must see at a time when family entertainment is too often synonymous with blandness. Grade: B+ (Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images.)

CollectionDX.com

25 July 2011

From Up On Poppy Hill

Film review by Leonardo Flores

On Saturday July 16th, 2011 I had the pleasure to be in Japan and be present for the opening day debut of the latest Studio Ghibli feature film, From Up On Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara), the second feature film to be directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki.

Set in 1963 in Yokohama, Japan and a year before the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, From Up On Poppy Hill tells the story of teenage Umi Matsuzaki and her fascination with a local teenage boy named Shun Kazama. Umi lives up on a hill overlooking the Yokohama seaside and busy sea traffic lanes and every morning before breakfast she raises a signal flag that signals “Safe Voyage” to the passing ships.

Headstrong Shun is a local teenager who was adopted into his family during the later half of WWII. Although his adoption had not been a big issue with Shun, it is when he visited Umi’s home that he sees a duplicate picture that his adopted father owns of three young Imperial Japanese Navy sailors in Umi’s family possession. With Umi’s father already passed on and her mother out the country for her photography business leads Umi and Shun on a personal discovery on the mystery of the photograph that could perhaps lead to the discovery of Shun’s background and parentage.

This film is set in an important time in Japanese history. One of my co-workers is a Japanese gentlemen in his 70’s and was seven years old when WWII ended and who clearly remembers the aftermath of the war. Just a couple of weeks ago I just happen to ask him when he felt Japan recovered from the war and became a modern nation and people felt optimistic again. He said the 1964 Olympics was the turning point for the Japanese people and the beginning of the economic boom that would last through the 80’s.

It was a timely question as this is one of the central themes of From Up On Poppy Hill in the guise of the old French school building that Shun and his friends are squatting in that is scheduled to be demolished. The debate is between the students is split into two camps: one group of students believe the building should be destroyed to make way for a new and modern building while the second group believes in embracing preserving the past traditions. This was the argument of the nation in 1963 before the Olympics and represented here with students who just happen to be the first generation of children born towards the end of WWII.

One of the main issues that many people had with this film was Goro Miyazaki directing the film, especially in light of his first feature length film, Tales of Earthsea. Tales Of Earthsea was not a highlight of the Ghibli cannon and most of the criticism of the film was directed to Goro Miyazaki. My criticisms of the film include: the tone of the film never being fully established, the rhythm of the film does not push the film along and the lack of detail in the animation itself. The music, which is important aspect of all Ghibli films, did not drive the film along as well.

From Up On Poppy Hill does not have any of those issues that were prevalent in Earthsea. Poppy Hill was an energized film lead along by a wonderful Jazz music score, which I believe is a first for a Ghibli Film. The Jazz music gave the film a youthful energy and fun vibe that pushed the film along at a great rhythm.

I liken the tone of From Up on Poppy Hill in the vein of Only Yesterday, Whispers of the Heart and Ocean Waves and not the magical enchanting journey of a Hayao Miyazaki film or the overt political and social overtones of Isao Takahata films but a nice blend of the two. In fact I feel Isao Takahata’s films had a big influence on Poppy Hill as with the social issues of war orphans being a prominent undertone of the film but never quite taking over the film.

It is the Japanese pop culture references that continue popping up throughout Poppy Hill where the film seems like it was greatly influenced by Only Yesterday. For example Kyu Sakamoto’s worldwide pop single Ue O Muite Aruko known in English as Sukiyaki is played two times in the film in some very touching scenes and it was great to see Kyu living on in animated form, especially in light of his tragic death and a touching tribute to his legacy. Keep in mind Goro Miyazaki was born in 1967 and Ue O Muite Aruko was released in 1961 making the song a reflective “oldies” song for Goro as well with Goro not even being alive when it was released.

Where as the feel of Poppy Hill reminds me of Only Yesterday, it is the superb detailed backgrounds, lush and gentle animation and the nuanced and deceptively deep characters that it reminds me of Whispers of the Heart. The detail of the Poppy Hill is phenomenal and I guarantee that on repeated viewings you will find sometime new that you never saw before. The highlight of the film is when Shun and Umi travel to 1963 Tokyo to discuss the French School building with the owners of the schoolhouse. Seeing 1963 Tokyo and Yokohama in animated form in such detail was awe-inspiring. These details including the period Tokyo cable cars, the Hikawa Maru Yokohama cruise ship, the newly built Tokyo Tower and various Meiji era shops and Taisho era hotels. In fact these details were so beautifully done that when I bought the mook on the film I was shocked to find that these places existed or still exist.

There is a moment in the film where the two pick up a snack at a small shop in Yokohama and it was surprising to know that the shop not only existed in 1963 but it is still in business as of today. I thought a quick shot of “Miyazaki Flowers” was a Ghibli in joke only to realize the place really existed and is also still in business in Yokohama.

The From Up On Poppy Hill builds to an excellent and completely satisfying ending and I can personally say it is a solid Ghibli film especially if you are a fan of the more introspective youth driven films like Whispers Of The Heart and my personal favorite Only Yesterday. The hard realization is that Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki are both in their 70’s and between them we most likely to have less than 5 more feature length animated films to be directed by the two with the last two Ghibli films, From Up On Poppy Hilll and Arrietty having been directed by two new directors.

Goro Miyazaki directed an excellent film with From Up On Poppy Hill and it is one of my personal Ghibli favorites. If Goro continues this direction with such a high quality film as From Up on Poppy Hill, we should know that Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki handed the studio and its legacy to some good hands.

Crosswalk.com

8 April 2013

The View From Up on Poppy Hill is Complex, Rewarding

By Christian Hamaker

Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo) has made inroads into America thanks to the advocacy of a master animator on these shores: Pixar’s John Lasseter reveres Miyazaki’s work and the films of Studio Ghibli, through which Miyazaki made his best known films.

With Miyazaki now in his 70s, the old guard of Japanese animation is starting to give way to the new, but Miyazaki’s fingerprints are evident on recent films he hasn’t directed. Studio Ghibli’s previous American release, The Secret World of Arrietty, was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi but was adapted from Mary Norton’s book by Miyazaki himself. Now there’s From Up on Poppy Hill, the credits for which reveal that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: this film is directed by another Miyazaki — Goro, the son of Hayao—but the results of the son’s direction are just as effective as that of his father.

We don't find any of Hayao's soot gremlins or forest spirits in Poppy Hill, however. This is a coming-of-age story aimed more at adolescents than at younger children. Umi (voice of Sarah Bolger, The Spiderwick Chronicles) lives in early 1960s Yokohama with her grandmother, sister and boarders. Her mother is away in America. Each morning she raises flags that signal the ships at sea—a gesture, we learn, that is her way of reaching out to her father, presumed dead after his ship hit a mine during the Korean War.

Umi is a lonely soul until she meets Shun (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek), editor of his school’s newspaper, and they become caught up in efforts to save a rundown facility that serves as headquarters for the philosophy, literary and chemistry clubs. The place represents, in the words of one of the students, "the flame of culture" for a country still recovering from the effects of World War II and the Korean War. On the cusp of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan is hurtling toward its future with little regard for its past. Or so some characters believe.

The tension between a forward-looking optimism and a determination to hold on to tradition marks much of the story, just as Umi’s and Shun’s family histories dominate their friendship and future prospects. When one character tells a group of onlookers, "You can’t move into the future by forgetting the past," someone in the crowd shouts back, "Anarchist!" and the event descends into a melee. When the building that houses the student clubs is to be razed, Umi reminds others that the place "makes us feel connected to our past."

The shared connection between Umi and Shun’s pasts will define the appropriateness of their relationship and will raise uncomfortable questions. At one point when Shun’s relationship with Umi seems uncertain, he exclaims, "It’s like a cheap melodrama!"

But don’t be scared off. The characters do the right thing, as difficult as it is, and just as Umi and Shun honor traditional morality and cultural expectations, the film’s twists and turns honor their mature decision-making. One wonders if a film about American youth in the 1960s would follow the same trajectory, or prove half as moving as From Up on Poppy Hill, which packs a surprising, emotional wallop.

The melancholy, searching tone of From Up on Poppy Hill never becomes maudlin or saccharine. The film is instead poignant, at times challenging, and ultimately hopeful, helped not only by the expected visual elegance but by a jazz-filled soundtrack that adds yet another dimension to the outstanding end product.

Those who desire artful animation absent any talking animals, crass humor and the desperate, lowest-common denominator appeal of so much American animated fare finally have a film to seek out and cherish. From Up on Poppy Hill builds slowly, revealing its secrets in due time, and it rewards the patient viewer.

On the evidence of From Up on Poppy Hill, the Miyazaki legacy is in good hands.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: None
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Some smoking
  • Sex/Nudity: None
  • Violence/Crime: A boy jumps from a roof into a pool, but hits bushes on the way down; a cut from shaving; a student melee, with one student shown putting another in a headlock; a ship is shown hitting a mine and exploding; a student falls through a clubhouse floor
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: Reminiscence of young love and parental disapproval; discussion of family lineage and what makes someone a child, a parent and a family unit; discussion of the loss of a child; Umi is referred to as a goddess of good luck, as heaven-sent, a little angel; a daughter sends her absent father a visual message that means, "I pray for your safe return;" a philosophy student exclaims, "We have co-opted every gift of the gods!"

The Daily City (Orlando, FL)

10 May 2013

Ghibli Period Drama Is Nostalgic and Ephemeral

By Nicholas Ware

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and it is constantly at odds with a simultaneous desire to embrace the new and move forward. This is true on both personal and cultural levels. From Up on Poppy Hill, the most recent film from venerable Japanese animation producers Studio Ghibli, embraces the past-and-future conflict both within its plot and design. The story, set in 1963 Yokohama, centers on Umi Matsuzaki, a high school student living in her grandmother's boarding house (which is up on Poppy Hill) while her mother studies abroad in America. Her father, a ship's captain, died in the Korean War, and she has been forced to shoulder some of the burden of raising her younger sister and brother. At school she becomes entwined with Shun Kazama, a passionate young man who seeks to save his school's ramshackle clubhouse, The Latin Quarter, from demolition brought on by Japan's push for "newness" in the face of the impending 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Umi and Shun face trails personal, scholastic, and cultural as they attempt to learn from and respect the past while preparing for the future.

The film's form itself wrangles with the same issues as its protagonists. Being a Studio Ghibli production, From Up on Poppy Hill is a visually sumptuous recreation of 1963Yokohama. The backgrounds, hand-painted and rich with color, are nearly fetishistic in their depiction of the era. As well as era-accurate recreations of buildings, ships, and streets, From Up on Poppy Hill gets considerable mileage out of Kyu Sakamoto's 1963 pop hit "Sukiyaki," the exact song to which its protagonists would be listening. This sort of dedication to creating atmosphere is typical of Ghibli works, both in Hayao Miyazaki's very successful fantasy films (Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away) and the lesser-known directors' domestic dramas (Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart), which are much closer in tone to From Up on Poppy Hill. However, the exercises in nostalgia can only ever end up bittersweet, and From Up on Poppy Hill similarly does, so those looking for a definitive, satisfying conclusion will likely be affected by the film's ending. It's no so much that the audience is left hanging--all the plot threads get tied up very neatly, almost too much so--but rather the feeling of impermanence that past-to-future exercises in cinema tend to create are strongly amplified, I'm sure intentionally, and the film ends in a sad bit of joy.

While Studio Ghibli's reputation was largely built on films created by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (two men in their 70s who are still making films for the company), directing duties for From Up on Poppy Hill fell to Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son. This is Goro's second film for Ghibli, and he acquits himself quite well after Tales of Earthsea, Goro's 2006 adaptation of several Ursula K. LeGuin books, ended up being a beautiful but muddled mess and was the first Ghibli film not to be a universal critical or commercial success. Goro is helped by a tight script co-written by his father, and a story that never moves much geographically, as all the scenes save for a brief visit to Tokyo take place in Umi's corner of Yokohama. The English-language dub of the film suffers a little bit from a preponderance of celebrity voices. (You'll recognize a few, like Beau Bridges, immediately.) However, Umi and Shun are voiced by relative unknowns, which helps their characters feel a more real. Purists would probably prefer a subtitled version (which will be available when the film is released on DVD and Blu Ray), as there are several stilted line readings that are probably a result of being forced to fit the English words to the characters' mouth movements. To be fair, however, all Ghibli dubs, which are among the finest Japanese animation dubs available, suffer from this detriment and most casual anime fans will barely notice.

From Up on Poppy Hill has elements that will resonate with both young--complicated romance--and old--nostalgia and family drama--as well as an undeniable aesthetic quality that is only enhanced by viewing it on a large screen. Hand-drawn animation itself has become a bit of nostalgia now that the medium is dominated by Pixar and other three-dimensional computer animation studios. From Up on Poppy Hill feel ephemeral, yet grounded. It's a film like a particularly well-written, heartfelt pop song: it comes and goes quickly and encapsulates a moment, but whenever it reappears it swells a certain feeling both ancient and ageless in the listener. It's not quite satisfying, but sometimes satisfaction is the least powerful feeling that art can produce. Japanese filmmakers, particularly Yasujiro Ozu, have historically excelled in creating films that produce happysad emotional resonance, and From Up on Poppy Hill continues that tradition into the future by embracing the past.

The Daily Yomiuri

15 July 2011

Set in 1963, 'Kokuriko-zaka' recalls precious memories

Takashi Kondo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Kokuriko-zaka Kara

(English title: From Poppy Hill)

Dir: Goro Miyazaki

Voices: Masami Nagasawa, Junichi Okada

Set in 1963, the latest Studio Ghibli offering, Kokuriko-zaka Kara, is filled with many experiences that have been lost in our daily life.

Among these, the scene where the protagonist, Umi, begins her day stands out. Wearing an old-fashioned apron, the high school girl is preparing breakfast. She cooks rice in a traditional pot and puts the cooked rice in a wooden container. Her younger sister, brother and the residents of the boarding house where Umi works all sit around the table and have their meal. This communal dining experience was common in Japan when living in an extended family was the norm.

The school Umi goes to also exudes a feeling of years gone by. The scenes are filled with nostalgia-inducing items such as a white sailor-style school uniform for girls, military-style, stiff-collared jackets and school caps for boys and a mimeographed school newspaper.

Such images portray the old days--a serious but gentler era. The images on screen evoke the viewers' sense of nostalgia, drawing out a yearning to go back to the simpler time.

The supporting characters include odd members of the school's philosophy and astronomy clubs who make their base in an old wooden house called "Quartier Latin."

The romantic relationship between Umi and Shun, a member of the school's newspaper production staff, also contributes to the nostalgic atmosphere. While double riding on a bicycle, Umi leans over Shun's shoulder, or eats a croquette that Shun bought for her. It is easy to see that they openly enjoy being with each other and every little thing the young couple do oozes with a fresh, youthful innocence.

Watching this movie, some will recall their own memories of 1963--the year before the Tokyo Olympic Games--when Japan embraced the beginning of the economic boom. As they watch, viewers will probably feel comforted as they find themselves wrapped up in sentimentality.

But this is not just a saccharine movie coated with a veneer of nostalgia. As the story unfolds, the audience learns that Umi and Shun are the ones who struggle to keep vanishing memories while trying to regain the lost ones.

The story develops around the couple's two important memories--the layers of cultural memories in the Quartier Latin house and the memories that give clues to the births of Umi and Shun.

The students of Quartier Latin rebel against the school that is trying to knock down the old house, while the young couple are tracing back the memories of their fathers who died during the war, with doubts creeping in that they might be half brother and sister.

The film portrays their struggle and their suffering as they fear they may forget about their lost fathers, and it is heart-breaking and painful to watch. That's why the words that later credit the memory of their fathers will definitely move the audience.

Among the many things that we have long lost, this movie repeatedly shows the images of those who are looking up. The flag, portrayed as a symbol of the late father, is raised high, the Quartier Latin house is viewed against a backdrop of sky, while the boarding house is on the top of a hill. Living in this environment, the characters naturally look up. Although not overtly stated, the message, "Walk with your head up," is a clear visual image. Using such a straightforward method works very well throughout the story.

Hayao Miyazaki was in his 20s in 1963 and that influence is seen in the anime script he wrote. His son, Goro, who was not even born in the early 1960s, directed it. The father-son joint production achieved a wonderful result and Kokuriko-zaka Kara is a work that needs to be seen in this day and age.

The movie, in Japanese, opens Saturday.

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