From Up on Poppy Hill (reviews - page 2)

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The Denver Post

5 April 2013

Movie review: Another Studio Ghibli triumph with "From Up on Poppy Hill"

By G. Allen Johnson
San Francisco Chronicle

Just about every animated film from an American studio these days is non-stop manic to the point of exhaustion. Exiting the theater can be a relief.

Thus the gentleness of a Studio Ghibli film from Japan, with its hand-drawn, 2D throwback look and irresistible colors, is always welcome.

"From Up on Poppy Hill," conceived by the Miyazakis (Hayao, the legendary master, and his son, Goro, who now directs), is an ambitious film, set in 1964 during the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, that tackles Japan's transition from tradition to an embracing of Western-style economy as seen through a group of high schoolers in the seaside town of Yokohama.

Umi (Sarah Bolger provides the voice in this English-dubbed version) lives in a boarding house; her father was killed at sea during the Korean War. Shun (Anton Yelchin) works at the school newspaper, and together — as their shy romance develops — they try to save a dilapidated old building that serves as the kids' clubhouse from demolition.

So there are no giant cats, ghosts, witches or unusual dreamscapes here — as one might expect from a studio famous for "Spirited Away," My Neighbor Totoro" or "The Secret World of Arrietty" — just a stylized realism that exudes nostalgia in a lovely way. (Perhaps the closest Studio Ghibli match to "From Up on Poppy Hill" is Isao Takahata's 1991 film "Only Yesterday," a reminiscence of childhood in the 1960s.)

My only complaint is in the dubbing — the American colloquialisms of the voice cast, which includes Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges and Bruce Dern — are jarring when the subject is Japanese traditions; whereas most Studio Ghibli films are just as good when dubbed into English, "From Up on Poppy Hill" might be one that would really benefit from being seen in its native language.

Since its primary delights are in visuals you can get lost in, that's a small complaint indeed.

The Fine Print (Gainesville, FL)

21 April 2013

Reel Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

By Mariafe Pazos

It’s almost the end of the semester and finals are coming…dun dun duuuun!

Yes, that dreaded time of library late nights and unhealthy amounts of coffee is upon us, so what best way to de-stress than by visiting the Hipp for some animated movie goodness?

The latest production from the magnificent Studio Ghibli, “From Up On Poppy Hill,” takes us back to the port town of Yokohama in vibrant 1964 Japan, where a 16-year-old girl, Umi Matsuzaki, leads a quiet life working at her family’s boarding house. Although she lost her father to the Korean War, Umi is unwilling to let go of the past. She raises signal flags every day, naively praying for his return home.

Things change, however, when she befriends Shun Kazama, a member of the school’s all-boys clubhouse, the Latin Quarter. Umi soon becomes entangled in a rebellious project to save the historical building from demolition and preserve the intellectual past of her town before it’s too late.

The director of the film, Goro Miyazaki, is the son of famous animator, director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki Sr., who also wrote the film, has pioneered work in anime feature film production, bringing us gems like “Princess Mononoke” and the Academy-Award-winning “Spirited Away,” one of my personal favorites. (If you haven’t seen any of his movies, you should check them out immediately because they are seriously phenomenal!)

“From Up On Poppy Hill,” a quaint tale of self-discovery and letting go, presents deep issues of selfhood as only Japanese animation knows how. It features a cast of quirky, likeable characters, like Sachiko, the art student boarder, and Riku, Umi’s easily infatuated younger sister. They introduce humor and produce a warm cinematic ambiance to explore important concerns of loss and loyalty.

Its beautiful pulsating colors and soft-lined digital art recreate a nostalgic Japan recuperating from the devastation of war and struggling to define itself culturally. The fight for the Latin Quarter thus represents the conflict of a nation in transition. It explores the contradictory dynamic between the need for traditional values and the adoption of a Westernized global culture.

“Ever since the wars, it seems the whole country is eager to get rid of the old and make way for the new, but some of us aren’t so ready to let go of the past.”

Aw man, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a sucker for postwar Japan!

What I liked most about this film was how Goro Miyazaki brilliantly reconstructs the Japanese historical narrative through a heartbreaking tale of youthful sentimentality. The two main protagonists, Umi and Shun, are brought together to face familial legacies, postgraduate hopes and even love as they interact with a cultural past unresolved and an impending future. The poppy flower, symbolic of peace and renewal, represents the resilient hopes of two kids (and, more broadly, an entire nation) seeking desperately to recover their national identity.

The Japan Times

22 July 2011

From Up on Poppy Hill (Japan. title: Kokuriko-zaka Kara)

By Mark Schilling

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Language: Japanese

Though based on a girls comic, this new Studio Ghibli animation plays like the pure-hearted, melodramatic youth films beloved by studio maestro Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote the script. Umi (voiced by Masami Nagasawa), an earnest high school girl living in 1963 Yokohama, becomes attracted to the older Shun (Junichi Okada), who is trying to save a dilapidated student-club building. But a revelation about Shun's birth threatens their budding romance. The predictable story is not helped by the pedestrian direction of Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son, but a wealth of period detail brings the era to nostalgic/realistic life.

Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI)

'From Up on Poppy Hill' universal tale of friendship

2 May 2013

Animated movie by Goro Miyazaki a universal tale of friendship

By Duane Dudek

The charming and nostalgic "From Up on Poppy Hill" is as lushly illustrated and vividly realized as memory itself.

This beautifully animated film from Japan's esteemed Ghibli Studio is a culturally distinctive but universal tale of family and friendship set in a postwar nation still juggling modernization and tradition.

At the center are a spirited girl in pigtails, responsible for running the family rooming house while her mother studies in America, and a spiky-haired boy leading a campaign to save a landmark.

As they work together to restore and prevent the demolition of the campus student center - a ramshackle firetrap filled with contraptions, ideas and eccentric residents - they discover they share a secret past.

The story takes place in 1963, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, and the hand-drawn animation - director Goro Miyazaki is the son of the film's producer's, Hayao Miyazaki, famed animator of "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke" - is steeped in formal realism and a big-eyed, vaguely Western character design common to much anime.

The result portrays visual and emotional complexity with stunning simplicity, and evokes the period with breathtaking details - flags flapping in a breeze, the girl walking in the rain with a red umbrella, the boy in front of a dramatic sunset.

Hayao Miyazaki's films were usually fantasy-based stories for younger audiences, made with a craftsmanship best appreciated by adults. This haunting reality-based work will appeal to animation lovers of all ages on all levels.

1 May 2013

Beautiful 'From Up on Poppy Hill' examines old and new

By Steven Rea
McClatchy Tribune

Set in 1960s Japan as the country prepares to host the 18th summer Olympics, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is a gentle, meditative animated feature from Studio Ghibli, the animation house founded by Hayao Miyazaki. The master cartoonist wrote the screenplay and oversaw the project. His son, Goro Miyazaki, directs.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Miyazakis — “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” — that the central character in this playfully wistful (or wistfully playful) story is a strong-willed girl. Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) is 16, living in a boardinghouse run by her grandmother. Umi buys food and does chores, and attends a nearby high school, valiantly trying to keep up with all her work. Every day, she raises the signal flags on a pole overlooking Yokohama Harbor — her father died at sea, and her mother is in America, studying. The flags are there to greet the ships. And they a way of remembering her father.

At school, she meets Shun (Anton Yelchin), an editor of the school paper, and one of a group of nerdy boys who live in a rundown clubhouse. School officials want to tear down the dilapidated pile of wood and make way for a new, modern building, so Shun and his fellow “Latin Quarter” residents start a boisterous campaign to preserve the ramshackle edifice. And Umi helps to clean up the place.

That is, at its heart, what “From Up on Poppy Hill” is about: the battle between old and new, traditional ways and what stands for progress. And in the wisdom of this artfully rendered film, Umi and Shun — and the viewer — come to learn that the past and the future should go hand in hand, that the best way to move forward is to reflect, and respect, what came before.

All that, and beautifully drawn animation, too.

Lights! Camera! Critic!

20 July 2011

From Kokuriko Hill Review[1]

By Jack Singleton

I'm currently on holiday in Japan, thus was fortunate to see the new Studio Ghibli film. Here is my review:

Gorō Miyazaki returns after his ‘not so impressive’ Tales from Earthsea in 2006, with a wonderful adaptation of Tetsuo Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi’s 1980s manga. After gaining negative reaction, including winning the ‘Worst Movie’ and ‘Worst Director’ awards in the 2006 Japan’s Bunshun Raspberry Award, many have been apprehensive towards Gorō’s next project. This criticism has certainly hurt Gorō reputation, but it all seems too critical. Many seem to forget that Tales from Earthsea was his directorial debut, and with his father being the great Hayao Miyazaki, it was always going to be tough for Gorō to make a spectacular first impression. However From Kokuriko Hill is a fantastic addition to Studio Ghibli’s strong filmography and certainly proves Gorō Miyazaki has enough cinematic and animation knowledge to work under the prestigious banner. It’s charming, funny and refreshing after the constant magical and fantasy approach of the studio, and Japanese animation in general.

The story takes place in Yokohama in 1963, where we follow High-School student, Umi Komatsuzaki[2]. She looks after her grandmother, younger brother and sister, whilst completing the housework. Each morning she raises her ‘Safe Voyage’ flag, and heads to school. After witnessing a stunt by the ‘Culture Club’, Umi meets Shu[3], a fellow student who is ‘second-in-command’ of the club, and Shirou, the President of the Student Council. It is this new found friendship and relationship between Shu and Umi which builds and matures revealing an intertwining background and charming romance. Alongside this character-driven story is the struggle occurring between the high-school and the various students of the ‘Culture Club’. The dilapidated building filled with history and memories is being threatened to be demolished. It’s up to the students to convince the ‘adults’ that their creation and interests are preserved.

Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, the story is realistic and historic in theme. Gone are the cutesy, magical monsters and characters, as well as the environmental commentaries Studio Ghibli is best known for. Instead From Kokuriko Hill deals with the ‘Rise of Post-War Japan’ and the incoming Tokyo Olympics. The film certainly creates a fitting atmosphere. Shots of Japan’s growing exporting and importing industries, office businesses and the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, clearly indicate the modern transformation of the country. We also experience the tragic nature of the Korean War and the impact on families and friends. The story also focuses on the widening gap/split between traditional Japanese culture and the modern, business age. It was during this ‘miracle’ period where Japan looked forward, rather than back, and the contest between the ‘school’ and the ‘students’ dramatise this theme. The contrast between the old buildings and industries of Yokohama, and the trains, cars of Tokyo symbolise the changing ideologies and philosophies of the nation.

While it may sound very mature when compared to previous Studio Ghibli’s films, it still deals with adolescents in a adult world, like Nausicaa and Laputa. However whilst magical characters and mysticism connect with the imaginations of children, From Kokuriko Hill uses its high-school environment and the sincere, pure nature of childhood relations to connect with younger audiences. It’s the characters that help with the portrayal of the story and the bring these environments and themes to the screen. And they are fantastic. While not as memorable when compared to the likes of Chihiro (Spirited Away) and Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro), they still possess enough personality and charm for the audience to care for them. We are introduced to various different students, all whom have different personalities. However the film focuses on the main characters of Umi and Shu and therefore unfortunately leads to other characters not being fully explored or developed to the same extent. Umi is beautifully portrayed and developed. Her calm, mature exterior hides her damaged background. We experience the loss of her father, and the growing pressure and responsibility she has gained with her mother studying abroad. Meanwhile, the strong-willed, charming personality of Shu, also obscures an uncertain background that becomes clearer with the relationship with Umi. Gorō and the writers have carefully constructed the characters and story, achieving a steady pace that allows for a deeper exploration into From Kokuriko Hill’s world.

The film looks amazing. After the spectacular animation of the previous Studio Ghibli production Arrietty The Borrower, it would seem impossible to top the artistic achievement of that film. However From Kokuriko Hill manages to. With its detailed interiors and sublime visual portrayal of Yokohama and the coast, its simply jaw-dropping to see the painstaking animation, artistic competence and talent that was involved in creating such an beautiful film. Clever sequences of animation liven up dull scenes like climbing stairs, as the ‘camera’ constantly follows the characters rather than having still ‘shots’. Alongside the fantastic animation is the soundtrack which is brilliant as always. Satoshi Takebe mixes long-flowing orchestral pieces with lively, jazz-like tunes like those of Kiki’s Delivery Service. It all adds personality to each scene without over-powering or distracting from the visual nature of the picture. Aoi Teshima ‘Summer of Farewells’ is a fantastic theme song, that remains in the memory well after the end of the film.

Overall, From Kokuriko Hill is a wonderful piece of animated cinema that certainly shows Gorō Miyazaki growing talent. Not only is it a beautiful work of art and song, but it’s a triumph in story-telling and character development. While it isn’t as memorable as the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away, and moves away from the magical essence of Studio Ghibli, it is still is impressively constructed and directed. And with the unfortunate inevitability that Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki won’t be around forever, it is reassuring that young artists and directors are successfully proving themselves as the future of Studio Ghibli.


Note: Unfortunately an international release date has yet to be decided. Therefore I imagine the USA and UK won’t get a chance to see this spectacle until 2012.

  1. The author is using a literal English-language translation of the Japanese title. The official English-language title is From Up on Poppy Hill.
  2. In the original manga, Umi's family name is Komatsuzaki. For the film, the family name was changed to Matsuzaki.
  3. Shun Kazama, see credits.

Los Angeles Times

'From Up on Poppy Hill' a sweet triumph for Miyazaki duo

21 March 2013

Father-and-son Hayao and Goro Miyazaki have created an animated wonder that looks with poetic nostalgia at 1960s Japan.

By Kenneth Turan

"From Up on Poppy Hill" is frankly stunning, as beautiful a hand-drawn animated feature as you are likely to see. It's a time-machine dream of a not-so-distant past, a sweet and honestly sentimental story that also represents a collaboration between the greatest of Japanese animators and his up-and-coming son.

"Poppy Hill" is directed by Goro Miyazaki, whose father, the Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "My Neighbor Totoro"), wrote the screenplay based on a graphic novel. The fantastical element present in the senior Miyazaki's films is not a factor here, but the father's ability to transport us to other worlds is very much echoed in the son's work.

That other world, the bustling Japanese city of Yokohama in 1963, may not sound like an enviable destination, but in the hands of Miyazaki and his team few places on Earth have looked as stunning as this hilly city whose port is filled with a gorgeous variety of ships and boats.

The year 1963 was not picked at random. It's the time all of Japan was gearing up for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, a key transition period that was, in the director's words, "an interval between a war overflowing with blood and an opulent economic era overflowing with money." Many Japanese, he adds, feel nostalgia for this period, and "From Up on Poppy Hill" is unabashedly nostalgic.

It's not just the beauty of the physical look of the period, with everything from houses to cars re-created in meticulous yet somehow poetic detail, that evokes a longing for the past. Even in dubbed English, the respect and politeness with which all the characters, even the teenage protagonists, treat one another is a far cry from what can go on in this day and age.

High school junior Umi (voiced by Irish actress Sarah Bolger of TV's "The Tudors") is the latest in the line of resourceful young women that feature in many Hayao Miyazaki films. With her father lost at sea during the Korean War and her mother studying in America, Umi has to keep an eye on her two younger siblings while doing a lot of the cooking and cleaning in the boarding house run by her kindly but reserved old-school grandmother.

Despite all this, Umi somehow finds time to do one more thing. Each and every morning, she runs two signal flags up the pole facing the harbor outside her hillside home. Why she does this is one of the gentle mysteries of "Poppy Hill's" plot, to be revealed with unhurried deliberateness.

As it turns out, one of Umi's classmates has noticed the flags and written the following poetic question in the school newspaper: "Fair Girl, why do you send your thoughts to the sky?" While Umi tries to figure out who that classmate might be, she and everyone else is captivated by a jump a young man makes from the roof of an enormous but dilapidated old Meiji-era building called the Latin Quarter that the boys in the school use as a clubhouse.

That young man would be Shun (Anton Yelchin), who jumps into a pool to protest that the school wants to raze the Latin Quarter and put a spanking new building in its place. In fact, the importance of the past, the notion that you can't move into the future without knowing and respecting it, soon reveals itself as "Poppy Hill's" overriding theme.

The inside of the Latin Quarter, which we see when Umi, prodded by her younger sister, visits Shun at the school newspaper office, is "Poppy Hill" at its most fantastical. Decades of detritus clog every available space of a multi-story structure composed of nooks and crannies without end.

It will shock no one that Umi and Shun feel a strong, albeit demure, attraction to each other, but, surprising for a movie as genteel as this one, a very real-world obstacle is thrust in the path of their relationship.

And not just any obstacle but one rooted, no surprise, in the chaotic wartime past that the Miyazakis clearly feel should not be forgotten in the rush to be modern. "From Up on Poppy Hill" may be sweetness itself with a pop soundtrack including 1963's chart-topping hit "Sukiyaki," but that doesn't mean it doesn't have some serious stuff on its mind.

Madison Movie (Madison, WI)

“From Up on Poppy Hill”: Studio Ghibli finds magic in the mundane

18 April 2013

By Rob Thomas

There are no moving castles in “From Up on Poppy Hill.” No witches, no fishes who turn into children, no little people living under the floorboards. Madison movie fans who have been regulars at the Sunday afternoon “Cinematheque at the Chazen” Studio Ghibli retrospective series this year, they know that it’s not unheard of for the legendary Japanese animators to take a break from fantasy films. But for most Western audiences, who know Ghibli through “The Secret World of Arrietty,” “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke,” the relatively ordinary plot of “Poppy Hill” might seem like a bit of a shock.

But don’t worry, because “Poppy Hill” really takes place in two magical, powerful kingdoms that exist in the same place with each other. One is called the Past. The other is called the Future. And the wonderful “Poppy Hill” has, in its own gentle way, many wise and warm things to say about the difficulties of trying to live in both.

Umi (voiced in the English-language version by Sarah Bolger) is a teenage girl living in Yokohama in 1963. Her father was lost at sea during the Korean War, and her mother is at school in the United States, but Umi is very capable, and can not only get her two younger siblings off to school, but can run a small boarding house out of their home as well. Yet, every morning, she goes out and raises the naval flags outside her house, in the faint hope that they will someday guide her father home.

All around her, Japan is excited about the 1964 Olympics coming to Tokyo, and the country is in the midst of a cultural shift, trying to push away the painful past of World War II and look towards a bright future. At Umi’s school, that mindset comes to a head around the student clubhouse, a ramshackle old building nicknamed the Latin Quarter. The towering building houses all the clubs at school — the Archaeology Club, the Chemistry Club, even the one-man Philosophy Club — floor after floor of nerds stacked on top of each other. But the administrators see it as an eyesore and want it torn down before the world comes to Japan for the Olympics.

Leading the student revolt is Shun (Anton Yelchin), who we first see leaping off the roof of the Latin Quarter and into a pond as a publicity stunt. Together, with Umi leading the girl students and Shun leading the boys, they try to whip the clubhouse into shape. Shun and Umi also fall in love — the most chaste, platonic love you’ll see on a movie screen in quite some time. But that love is threatened when the pair learn of a secret connection between their fathers, dating back years, that could scuttle their relationship.

“It’s like a cheap melodrama,” grumbles Shun, which is a great joke, because of course in the hands of Studio Ghibli it’s anything but. The film was written (“planned”) by Ghibli’s master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki. It almost goes without saying how beautiful the hand-painted animation of “Poppy Hill” is to look at, whether it’s the millions of tiny details in the labyrinthine Latin Quarter, or the evocation of a 1960s Japan street scene, with the peppy Japanese pop hit “Sukiyaki” playing on the soundtrack.

But “Poppy Hill” proves to be more than just a visual feast. It’s seemingly slight storyline has a warm emotional resonance, tapping into both the uncertainty of a Japan caught between past and future, and adolescents Umi and Shun, caught between childhood and adulthood. Most movies posit the teenage years as someting to be endured, so it’s such a treat to see Umi and Shun taking charge of their lives, at home and at school, learning how to master their regrets and uncertainties. It’s easy to build up a lot of empathy for these characters, and the hope they carry forward with them.

In my household, the film was perhaps a bit too slow and fairy-free for a 5-year-old who loved “Arrietty,” but the 9-year-old was captivated. As was the 44-year-old.

One further note: like many recent Studio Ghibli imports, the film is dubbed into English rather than subtitled, and in the past the English versions have been rather poor, with colorless dialogue and flat vocal performances. The translation in “Poppy Hill” feels a cut above those recent efforts, though, with Yelchin and Bolger turning in appealing performances ahead of a large supporting cast that includes Aubrey Plaza, Bruce Dern, Jamie Lee Curtis and Gillian Anderson, as well as a very funny surprise cameo by Ron Howard.