From Up on Poppy Hill (reviews - page 3)
9 May 2013
The latest offering from Japan's esteemed Studio Ghibli is an understated charmer.
By Rene Rodriguez
The thought of the Oscar-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, founder of Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke), teaming up with his son Goro on a movie sends your expectations sky-high. What surreal creations and magical universes will two generations of Miyazakis be able to conjure up?
The surprising answer is: zero. From Up on Poppy Hill, written by the elder Miyazaki and directed by his son, is a departure for Ghibli — an emotionally nuanced, nostalgic look at the past that is grounded in everyday reality but retains the humor and delight that are part of the studio’s trademark.
The year is 1963, and in the seaside town of Yokohama, everyone is preparing to put on a shiny face to show the world during the upcoming 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “Out with the old, in with the new” is the mantra sweeping the country. But when plans call to demolish an old, dusty building that houses all the academic clubs of their high school, two students — Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) — hatch a plan to save the beloved structure. In the process, they fall in love.
Although the story is simple enough to have been filmed in live action (and will disappoint viewers searching for a typical fix of Ghibli fantasia), From Up on Poppy Hill is often indescribably beautiful. The endangered clubhouse, with its dense clutter and crowded halls and maze of stairways, looks like something that might have come from Howl’s Moving Castle. The blooming romance between Umi and Shun is sweet and tender and moving, even though the most intimate thing they share is a bicycle ride.
The film’s beautiful pen-and-ink animation is supplemented by some stunning watercolor vistas of puffy clouds, blooming gardens and boats at sea. The mid-1960s period feel is made palpable by the movie’s use of light and music (the song Sukiyaki, which in 1963 became the only Japanese-language song ever to hit No. 1 in the United States, is used prominently). From Up on Poppy Hill is a simple tale about a country trying to honor its past while embracing its future, seen through the eyes of schoolchildren. But the picture unfolds on such a small and intimate scale - with endearing protagonists who are dealing with the consequences of war - that it will enchant any viewer, regardless of cultural lines.
14 March 2013
By Scott Tobias
Of the many wonderful qualities associated with the films of Studio Ghibli — the Japanese animation house co-founded by Hiyao Miyazaki [sic], the visionary director of My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away — serenity may be the most key. Ghibli productions offer the stirring adventures and magical creatures of their American counterparts, and often operate by a wondrously mysterious internal logic, but they do so without feeling compelled to grab a young audience by the lapels. Even the name "Ghibli," derived from an Arabic word for the Mediterranean wind, evokes the gentle breeze that seems to guide their movies to port.
From Up on Poppy Hill, the second feature by Miyazaki's son, Goro Miyazaki — the first was the poorly received 2006 Ursula K. Le Guin adaptation Tales from Earthsea — takes place in a seaside village that may as well be called Ghiblitown. Based on the graphic novel by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, the film is broadly accessible but makes no immediate appeals to children — no talking animals, no chase scenes or slapstick, nothing supernatural or even defying physics.
In fact, it could be a live-action drama without the staging's being altered in the least. Yet those gorgeous, hand-drawn images bring lightness and grace to a story that might seem drab and pedestrian in the real world.
Opening in 1963, the year before the Olympic Games in Tokyo, From Up on Poppy Hill captures a period in which the country was eager to slough off the past and present the world with a bright, modern, revitalized image. But the past still weighs heavy on Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger), a high-school student who may be a member of the postwar generation, but who raises flags for her father each morning as a gesture of hope for his safe return. With his ship considered lost in the Korean War, Umi lives with her grandmother in a boarding house overlooking the sea, assuming responsibilities beyond what might normally be expected of a teenage girl.
A wallflower at school, Umi nonetheless attracts the attention of Shun (voiced by Anton Yelchin), a brash and popular roustabout who harbors a secret crush on her. Shun brings Umi into the "Latin Quarter," a dilapidated mansion that serves as a lively clubhouse for the students (otherwise all boys) interested in chemistry, drama, philosophy, journalism and other pursuits. With administrators eager to demolish the old building in the spirit of the new, Umi and Shun rally to keep the wrecking ball from dropping while embarking on a relationship with roots in a shared past.
Co-scripted by Hiyao Miyazaki, From Up on Poppy Hill makes its themes far too explicit. Barely a minute has passed before Umi says, via voiceover, "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." There are more elegant ways to situate the audience in time and place, especially with that entire Latin Quarter subplot serving as a strong metaphor for a country that needn't entirely abandon the old in a quest for rebirth.
But it's the warm tenor of the film that ultimately rescues it. Miyazaki renders the crises of Umi's life with great feeling but without melodrama, which honors her spirit of self-reliance and her mature disposition. Her losses and sacrifices are substantial — as the country's have been — but From Up on Poppy Hill makes her a proud stand-in for a generation that's trying to broker a peaceful reconciliation between a salvageable past and a promising future. She bears the pressure beautifully.
New York Times
14 March 2013
By A.O. Scott
“From Up on Poppy Hill” takes a gentle, nostalgic look at Japan in 1963, from the perspective of a schoolgirl who lives in the Yokohama neighborhood evoked in the title. Though it was written and “planned” by Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the greatest living fantasist in world cinema (and directed by his son Goro), this movie, based on a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, is a lovely example of the strong realist tendency in Japanese animation. Its visual magic lies in painterly compositions of foliage, clouds, architecture and water, and its emotional impact comes from the way everyday life is washed in the colors of memory.
Umi (voiced in the English version by Sarah Bolger) lives in a house overlooking the water. Her father, a ship captain, was lost at sea during the Korean War, and her mother is studying in the United States, leaving Umi to help her grandmother look after two younger children and a house full of eccentric boarders. The lonely girl is a staple of the Miyazaki universe, and Umi’s melancholy, thoughtful manner suffuses the atmosphere of “From Up on Poppy Hill.”
It is not altogether sad, though. Two entwined stories emerge from the routines of home and school. One involves the effort to save the Latin Quarter, a dilapidated mansion where Umi’s male classmates convene to conduct scientific experiments, expound on philosophical matters and indulge in other forms of endearing dweebery. After enlisting (along with her best friend) in the campaign to stop its demolition, Umi develops a crush on its least nerdy member, Shun (Anton Yelchin), though their family histories are connected in ways that complicate the romance.
Shun and Umi are young people in a country looking forward to hosting the Olympics, but the shadow of war hangs over their lives, much as it did in “My Neighbor Totoro,” Hayao Miyazaki’s magnificent fable set in the 1950s. The specific tragedy that lies in the background may not register with children, which means they will be touched by the film’s sadness without being too upset by it. Adults, meanwhile, are likely to be charmed by the love story and enchanted by the delicate rendering of a bygone but not entirely forgotten era.
Newsday (News 12 Conneticut)
27 March 2013
By John Anderson (Special to Newsday)
Heartwarming, hand-drawn and heady, "From Up on Poppy Hill" marks the first collaboration between Japan's reigning overlord of animé, Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away"), and his son, Goro, who directed this postwar period piece. A production of the fabled Ghibli Studios ("Princess Mononoke"), it evokes its place and time -- Yokohama, 1963 -- with a seductive mix of the somber and buoyant. Japan is still in postwar mode (there's a generation of men simply missing from the Yokohama landscape); young love is in bud. The contrast -- a sense of loss, and a bouncing soundtrack of lounge-lizard jazz-pop -- makes "Poppy Hill" both genuinely emotional and blithely engaging.
Near the home where the beautiful and disarmingly sensible Umi (voice of Sarah Bolger) runs a rooming house with her grandmother, is the bustling school where Shun (Anton Yelchin) and his cronies are trying to save the period mansion/frat house where they live. The tensions -- preserving the past, getting over the war, a nation preparing for the '64 Tokyo Olympics -- are a chaotic backdrop to the romance that erupts between Umi and Shun, which becomes complicated by questions of birth, which might have been answered by Umi's father, except he's been lost at sea.
The look of the film is intoxicating; there's nothing quite as cheesy as bad animation, but the Miyazakis do not produce bad animation. They create a world of images in which emotions naturally flourish and characters are immediately familiar (see the opening scene at breakfast, which Umi dutifully cooks). There's a lot of chatter, especially among the wiseguy college students who run various clubs and societies out of the rambling mansion ("The crux of the matter is how we can make archaeology cool." "We can't. ...") and the issues discussed start to overwhelm the simple, and simply astounding, beauty of the Miyazakis' art. Still, few viewers, whether they're animé fans or not, would not be won over by the film's dramatic sincerity and visual grace.
Northwest Asian Weekly
5 April 2013
By Andrew Hamlin
“From Up On Poppy Hill” is the second anime feature from Goro Miyazaki, son of the famed anime master Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghilbi fame. The film proves a substantial improvement over his first feature, “Tales from Earthsea” (a film I actually liked), and a story impressive for its quietude. It contains no science fiction elements, and apart from a vividly-off kilter dream sequence, there are no fantasy elements. Rather, it takes place in 1963, amidst a Japan still digging out from and redefining itself in the aftermath of World War II. It reaffirms traditional values in a culturally conservative but emotionally winning manner.
In 1963, Tokyo and Japan prepared to welcome the world for the 1964 Olympic Games. This will show the world how Japan is recovering from the war, and naturally the government wants the country to look and feel strong, confident, and accommodating.
North of Tokyo in Yokohama, however, the film’s narrative focuses on a smaller, more intimate story. Sixteen-year-old Umi Matsuzaki (voiced by Masami Nasagawa in Japanese and Sarah Bolger in the English dub) has her hands full with helping her grandmother (voiced by Keiko Takeshita/ Gillian Anderson) run a boarding house. Umi also looks after her two younger siblings, Sora and Riku, and attends to her schoolwork.
The story, adapted from a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsurō Sayama, soon splits into twinned narratives. Umi pays a visit to the Latin Quarter, a huge and imposing but badly run-down building which holds the various clubs associated with her school. There, she meets the passionate and excitable Shun Kazama (Junichi Okada/Anton Yelchin), who edits the school newspaper.
Umi quickly realizes that she’s falling in love with Shun, but she’s shy and uncertain how to proceed. She settles for spending as much time with Shun as possible. Meanwhile, word comes from the school administration that the Latin Quarter is to be torn down. This tosses Shun, Umi, and everyone else associated with the building in a mad dash to save it from the wrecking ball.
Shun and Umi share a potentially terrible secret, but the drama lies not in the secret itself, but in how they cope with it. They learn that they cannot be lovers, but they tell each other that they will always be friends, although they may not be taking into consideration the emotional wear and tear of trying to stay close. Their resolve on an intimate level reflects the larger resolve of the student body to save the Latin Quarter — which, in turn, reflects Japan’s energetic, can-do attitude between the end of WWII and the Olympics.
The animation, which the elder Miyazaki had a hand in, emphasizes bright lights against falling twilights. A long, fast downhill bike ride into the heart of the city makes for one of the film’s visual centerpieces. Appropriately enough for a story set in a port, we see plenty of freighters, tugboats, and smaller vessels arranged artfully against blue water and churning wave crests.
“Earthsea” saw Goro Miyazaki struggling to balance the personal with the epochal. Here, he succeeds in the difficult task of planting the big picture firmly within and beside the smaller picture. Umi, Shun, the students, and even the adults struggle with the past and debate over the best possible future. The simultaneous narratives emerge winningly lyrical on every level.
22 August 2011
New and Old Clash as Miyazakis Unite.
By Fernando Ramos
Goro Miyazaki has to be the unluckiest man in the anime industry. His legendary parentage aside, no one could envy his position of having been promoted from landscape architect to suddenly directing a movie based on an epic fantasy universe spanning a half-dozen books. That didn't stop the resulting film, 2006's Tales from Earthsea, from missing the mark, but all we can do is razz the movie and pat the director on the back while saying, “Maybe next time, kid” in our best Brooklyn accent. Apparently, the powers that be at Studio Ghibli also thought as much and so, after a five-year absence, have brought him back into the ring, this time tag-teaming with his old man Hayao Miyazaki for Kokuriko-zaka kara, or From Up on Poppy Hill.
As with last year's excellent Arrietty, Hayao relegates himself to planning and co-writing the script with Keiko Niwa, letting his son once again take seat in the director's chair, to the anxious (dare I say nervous) anticipation of filmgoers nationwide. Earthsea was the sad result of a young hungry filmmaker trying to prove his mettle in the heavyweight class and he could barely land a punch. It was only to be expected that that the son of Miyazaki would be given a second chance, but whether or not the kid could pull through remained to be seen.
The subtext of this father-son collaboration cannot be ignored by those who have followed or even been remotely aware of the tense relationship between the two Miyazakis. As the story goes, Goro took the directorial duties of Earthsea against the wishes of his father, leading the two to stop speaking to one another. If there is any positive result to be taken from that misfire, it was that it led to an apparent reconciliation, with the elder Miyazaki attending the premiere screening of his son's work and being one of the few to openly praise it. As if to completely bury that hatchet, the protagonist of 2009's Ponyo was said to be inspired by Goro in his younger years, complete with telling references to a busy father unable to meet his son due to always being out at sea.
Loosely based on a 1980 manga of the same name, Kokuriko-zaka kara ostensibly tells the love story between Umi (Masami Nagasawa) and Shun (Junichi Okada). Umi, nicknamed “Mer” by her friends and family, is just a girl growing up along the coasts of 1963 Yokohama, always hoisting up signal flags for the passing boats in memory of her late father, perhaps in a deliberate continuation of the similar subplot in Ponyo. Shun, who often rides a small tugboat of his own, makes a point to answer the signal, our heroine knowing not to whom it belongs.
However, the wheels of le romance finally get turning when Shun decides to confess his love in the most dramatic of ways, involving several loud banners, an even louder crowd of supporters, and a dive off the school's roof that predictably goes awry. At first, Umi spurns her aspiring suitor's advances as silly boys games, not realizing there might be something to it until she sees him give a stirring speech on keeping Quartier Latin, the school's dilapidated clubhouse, standing in the name of tradition while most students argue angrily that a changing new Japan needs new buildings. Making matters worse, their blossoming romance hits a huge obstacle when Umi learns something about Shun that perhaps only CLAMP would approve of.
Fans of Ghibli's more sedate works such as Only Yesterday, or even Arrietty, will feel right at home here, although this movie is perhaps a bit more outwardly melodramatic than either of those. The central relationship is more concretely defined and expressed, appropriate given that we're dealing with rambunctious high schoolers and not older adults nor sickly boys and faeries. However, this is a Japanese love story after all, so the kids mostly keep their hands off each other and expectations to hear “I love you” spoken will be in vain.
While the budding romance of the two protagonists is serviceable, the real star and the real story is the world of 1960s Japan herself. The roads are barely paved and the train lines are just being revitalized. Posters announcing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are plastered everywhere and the opening of the Shinkansen bullet train is only a year away as the nation vigorously toils to shed the ashes of war and demonstrate itself as a reformed player on the world stage.
To wit, kids on shortwave radios excitedly make contact with American vessels in English and French-Japanese dictionaries adorn the desks and Umi's university professor mother is off in America for study. The air is filled with swanky jazz and period pop songs, most notably Kyu Sakamoto's "Ue o Muite Arukou" (better known as "Sukiyaki"), a Japanese international hit whose inclusion here is certainly no coincidence. This is a hopeful nation on the way to carving its identity while catching up with the big boys.
Thematic analysis aside, how does Goro fare his second time around in regards to creating a movie on its own merits? The idea to reel it way back to a smaller setting proves to be a wise one. The younger Miyazaki complements his father's writings with a much more careful hand than ventured in Earthsea. The narrative pace is meditative, never quite straying into boring but also not quite able to enrapture us in the characters' dilemmas.
Picking up the slack on that end are the visuals. To be sure, the movie doesn't toy much with camera tricks, preferring workmanlike static angles, but those shots are so crammed full of period details that they maintain interest and make one nostalgic for the era even if they never lived through it themselves.
As it stands, given its slow pace, niche material and director's bruised reputation, Kokuriko is bound to get overlooked as time wears on and, despite its flaws, that would be a shame. It's unlikely to ever be a classic, but it is a worthy addition to the Ghibli canon and a hell of a comeback for the maligned director. Here's hoping that he'll have a chance to truly knock it out on the third time around.
Fernando Ramos is a Japan correspondent for Otaku USA. His photography can be found at www.mroutside.com.
17 May 2013
By Barry Paris
Pop-music buffs of a certain age (a certain advanced age) may recall "The Sukiyaki Song," sung by Kyu Sakamoto, which hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Chart in 1963 -- the only Japanese song ever to do so. Its English title reference to a hot-pot dish had nothing to do with the tune's actual name ("I Shall Walk Looking Up") or meaning, but was chosen solely to sound user-friendly for Americans. One wag at the time said it was like retitling the Japanese version of "Moon River" as "Beef Stew."
In any case, half a century later, it's the nostalgic theme song of "From Up on Poppy Hill," a charming -- if not groundbreaking -- animated feature from Japan's famed Studio Ghibli.
No monsters, superheroes or talking animals populate Poppy Hill, which is situated high above Yokohama harbor. There, a serious girl named Umi lives in a boarding house with her grandmother, helping to run the place ever since her mother left for America. Each morning, she hoists signal flags in wistful honor of her father, whose ship sank during the Korean War (don't worry, he was on the "good" side).
It's half-past 1963, and all of Japan is eagerly anticipating the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics. Nobody's more excited about that than the boys at Umi's high school -- until they learn that their beloved old clubhouse, dubbed "The Latin Quarter," must be torn down to make way for something more suitably modern.
It's really a clubmansion rather than clubhouse -- Asian-Victorian Gothic in style, falling-down in disrepair, but full of nifty nooks and crannies containing the guys' archaeology, philosophy and debate clubs and the student newspaper (edited by Umi's boy crush, Shun). They're distraught at the prospect of losing their combination student union and bachelor pad.
Mickey and Judy would say, "Let's put on a show to raise money!" Umi and Shun say, "Let's redd up and restore the place to its past grandeur!" Which fits in with this year's Debate Club topic: "Can you get to the future without preserving the past?"
If the ramshackle Latin Quarter reminds you of the fantastic structures in Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" or "Spirited Away" (2002 Oscar-winner for best animated feature), you're a serious anime fan with an eye for hereditary talent: "Poppy Hill" was directed by Hayao's son, Goro.
But overall, the younger Mr. Miyazaki replaces the fantasy visions of his father with realist re-creations of a very specific time and place -- the 1964 Olympics that symbolized Japan's reemergence from World War II devastation and disgrace. Many Japanese still feel nostalgia for that era, which the Miyazaki animators render with such naturalistic fidelity that at times you forget it's animated.
You shouldn't. This is hand-drawn, not computer-generated, animation -- a fine and dying art, indeed.
"Manga" art, on the other hand -- cartoon-style drawings and storytelling in panels -- is alive and well, in and out of Japan. It first took root there during the U.S. occupation, not least of whose cultural influences were comic books brought over by GIs and the images of American television and movies -- Disney above all. Japanese of all ages love manga for its cinematic zooms, angles and shadows in a wide array of "graphic novel" genres: action-adventure, romance, science fiction, mystery, horror, sports and even pornography. Now an integral part of the Japanese publishing industry (to the tune of $6 billion annually), manga tales are first serialized in magazines or books and, if successful, can graduate to anime adaptations on Japanese TV and movie screens.
"Poppy Hill" is a fairly tame example of such, with its variation on the age-old theme of likable young lovers overcoming obstacles. Its round-faced characters (like their sweetly platonic romance) are on the bland side, and unremarkably drawn.
But details make art, my old art teacher used to proclaim, and the period details here are to die for: Freighters and tugboats crisscross the twinkling nighttime harbor. The school paper is laboriously hand-lettered and inked on an old stencil-mimeo process. The fresh fish and cooking oil sizzle sumptuously in Umi's skillet. Every frame is visually evocative.
There's some clever dialogue. When Umi asks where the philosophy club is located, one of the boys replies, "Upstairs -- just listen for the sound of smug pretentiousness." To deliver such lines in this English version, Mr. Miyazaki has hired a presumably overpriced set of Yankee voices (Jamie Lee Curtis, Beau Bridges, Ron Howard, Bruce Dern, etc.), not that you can easily distinguish them.
"Poppy Hill" doesn't dance on the cutting edge. But its gorgeous design, pacific mood and warm heart make it a sweetly sentimental Sukiyaki journey for kids, teens and adults alike.
6 October 2011
By David Vickers
Studio Ghibli is, in my opinion, the Japanese equivalent of Pixar, in that any film it releases comes with a virtually guaranteed seal of quality. The latest feature-length animation from the studio, "From Up on Poppy Hill," came out here in Japan this July, and I'm pleased to report that it maintains the high Ghibli standard.
This is the studio that recently brought us such family-friendly viewing delights as "Ponyo" (a kind of Japanese "Little Mermaid") and "Arietty" (a retelling of the classic children's story "The Borrowers"). However, I wouldn't recommended bringing your kids along to "From up on Poppy Hill," as it's squarely aimed at a more mature audience. Now, this doesn't mean it's the kind of anime that features scenes of blood-splattered violence or pneumatically-endowed naked bimbos (heaven forbid Ghibli ever goes down that route!). Rather, it's a deeply nostalgic coming-of-age tale that, while brimming with heart-warming charm, lacks the fantastical or cutesy element to keep the average kid entertained.
This is the second effort from director Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao, the beloved founder of Ghibli. His directorial debut, "Tales from Earthsea" received a mixed critical reception, but so far "...Poppy Hill" has fared much better with Japanese critics and audiences, and deservedly so in my opinion, as overall it's a superior film.
Set in 1963, the Poppy Hill of the title is a picturesque part of Yokohama which overlooks the city's harbour. It's here that the 16 year-old heroine of the story, Umi, lives, in the grand family home Kokuriko Manor, from whose garden she diligently raises a flag each morning, bearing a message of "safe voyage" for passing ships. Umi feels a particular affinity with the sailors, as her own father died at sea in the Korean War.
The bulk of the story takes place in Umi's high school, which, even considering the 1960s setting, struck me as being a quaintly old-fashioned institution. The embodiment of this is the school's Culture Society, rather pretentiously named the "Quartier Latin," which is housed in a rickety old building that has certainly seen better days. With the Olympic Games set to be held in Tokyo the following year, the school authorities are keen to embrace the ideals of a new, modern Japan, and this apparently entails knocking down the Quartier Latin headquarters and replacing it with a shiny new structure. Many of the students are firmly against this drive for change, however, and chief among them is the earnest and eloquent Shun, a boy in the year above Umi. While campaigning together to try and save the old building, Umi and Shun feel themselves growing closer together, but, as they soon realize, young love rarely runs a smooth course...
There may not be many thrills and spills during the 90-minutes running time, but that didn't matter one bit to me. I came out of the cinema feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, which is not something that's happened to me for quite a while. The main cause of this was not so much the story, which was pleasant enough, but the whole look and feel of the film. This is almost entirely due to the sumptuous quality of the hand-drawn animation, with the settings of 1960s Yokohama and Tokyo recreated in such loving detail that I felt I was really back there myself. Even though I'm not Japanese, and have relatively little knowledge of the Japan of that era, I was left with a palpable sense of nostalgia, wishing that I could have grown up in Yokohama 50 years ago. The wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack also deserves a mention, a mixture of original instrumentals and Japanese '60s pop numbers contributing to the nostalgic feel.
So while, unlike many other Ghibli productions, "From up on Poppy Hill" doesn't feature any magic as such, it is nevertheless a magical film in itself, full of spellbinding images in the true Ghibli tradition that should stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.