From Up on Poppy Hill (reviews - page 5)

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28 March 2013

'From Up on Poppy Hill' review: Let the games begin

By Chris Hewitt

Animation fans are supposed to love films from Studio Ghibli, but many of them leave me cold.

I can get behind a lot of the Japanese studio's movies -- "Spirited Away," for instance, and "My Neighbor Totoro." But others, including "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo," get a little twee for my tastes. All those airy stories and prettily hand-drawn images of wildflowers make me feel like I'd have just as much fun poring over someone's collection of teacups.

The new Ghibli film, though, is the urban, based-in-reality "From Up on Poppy Hill," and it's a gem.

There's still the same attention to detail, but it feels fresher when it's applied to the twinkling cityscapes of Yokohama. And anchoring the film in a specific setting instead of the usual dreamy forest makes "Poppy" feel more urgent and relatable.

The film is set just before the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, when big chunks of the city are being torn down to make way for the construction of sports facilities.

Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) are teenagers who, while trying to save their school from the wrecking ball, discover they have more in common: Both of their families have secrets in the recent past.

The Olympics create a compelling backdrop and help focus Umi and Shun's stories, which end up having a lot to do with preparing for the future while respecting the past. There's something similar going on behind the scenes of "Poppy," which was made by Goro Miyazaki, whose father, Hayao Miyazaki, founded Ghibli. The film shows the younger Miyazaki going off in a new, slightly older-skewing direction while still firmly working in the gentle hand-drawn style with which the old man has been dazzling filmgoers for decades.

Twitch Film

9 September 2011


By Todd Brown

1963 Japan was a nation caught between worlds. Still recovering from the after effects of the war, a generation of adult men largely gone forever, but with the Tokyo Olympics looming as an event to usher Japan back into a prominent international position, the nation was caught between the painful past and a hopeful future with the youth of the time left to chart a course between the two.

In this between-state we meet Umi, a highschool junior living with her grandmother and two siblings in their family home - an old hospital converted to a boarding house to make ends meet, with all of the tenants female. Old before her time in certain ways, Umi overseas the business and cooks for the residents of the home, the business thriving under her focused care. But as competent as she may be she is still a teen-aged girl, one who lost her father in the Korean War, and one who vents the pain of her loss by hoisting messages coded in nautical flags to him every morning.

And then there is Shun, adopted into a working class family when his father, too, passed during the war, Shun is a firebrand in the making, a passionate intellectual who edits and prints the high school paper while waging a fight to preserve the school's aging clubhouse - a labyrinthine old building slated to be destroyed to make way for a more modern structure in advance of the Olympics. It's a fight he believes he will lose but is worth fighting anyway because how can you have a meaningful future if you lose your connections to the past?

A beautifully artful, wistfully nostalgic coming of age romance, From Up On Poppy Hill is the second feature film directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. As was the case with his first effort Poppy Hill will suffer to a certain degree thanks to the family name - the expectations brought on by being a Miyazaki are simply enormous - but this should find a greater degree of praise.

The sort of simple, naturalistic story that Studio Ghibli hasn't really tackled since Whispers Of The Heart, From Up On Poppy Hill features all the gorgeous artwork that you would expect from a Studio Ghibli film. The sheer craftsmanship on display here is astounding and it is balanced with a careful attention to detail and character that grants as much importance to the quiet moments as it does to any of the plot events. It's an approach that has served Ghibli well in the past and it continues to deliver impressive results here, though Poppy Hill - like Whispers Of The Heart - seems destined to be viewed as a more secondary entry in a canon that includes classics like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.

The reasons for the somewhat reduced status are two.

First, this is simply a smaller story. There are no big action set pieces and elements of the fantastic at all. It is a very simple story about a girl and a boy finding each other while they try to sort out lingering issues of their individual pasts and their collective future. And no matter how well told that sort of story is it will never draw the gasps of wonder that Ghibli did when they had a pair of young girls befriend the mythical forest spirit that is now the company logo.

Second, the film splits time between two stories - Umi in the boarding house and the school group as a whole rallying to save the clubhouse - that never really seem to mesh into a satisfying whole. It almost feels as though there are two movies competing within Poppy Hill and while both are strong on their own terms - the world of the clubhouse stands quite well with any of the more fantastical creations of the studio and I'd love to see a film set entirely within its walls - they fail to cohere and push in a single direction.

Weaknesses aside, From Up On Poppy Hill is a significant step forward for Goro Miyazaki as a director and a strong indication that he is finding his own voice and style. And, bluntly, even 'minor' work from Studio Ghibli is a world better than major works from almost any other animation house in the world. Poppy Hill is very well worth a visit.


3 October 2011

From Up on Poppy Hill

By Peter Debruge

Suggesting all that is lost when people rush to replace the old ways with shiny new alternatives, Studio Ghibli's gorgeously hand-drawn period romance "From Up on Poppy Hill" tells the story of how a young couple intervene in the demolition of a classic building on their school campus. Though relatively successful in its native Japan, this dramatic, somewhat grown-up entry reps a startling break from the fantastical tales for which the toon studio is known - to the extent that the classically animated tale could have been told via live-action - which should put a serious pinch on its export prospects.

For director Goro Miyazaki, son of celebrated Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki (who co-wrote the screenplay), "Poppy Hill" feels like an about-face after the disappointing debut of "Tales From Earthsea." Where that film lost its way along a sprawling, ambitious sci-fi plot, this one feels small enough to cup in one's hands. Adapted from a vintage manga series by Tetsuro Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, pic reps a safe, sentimental choice as follow-ups go, trading on the fact that Japanese auds would appreciate a nostalgic, lovingly rendered glimpse of themselves circa 1963, just as the country was reinventing itself for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

A wide-eyed example of the postwar generation, Umi lives with her grandmother on a scenic hill above Yokohama, where she keeps the memory of her war-hero father alive by raising flags for the passing ships each morning. Unknown to her, a boy from Umi's school passes below daily and notices the signal, harboring a secret crush on his shy classmate.

But dating is more complicated than the two teens imagine, especially after the boy, Shun, recognizes a photograph of Umi's father in her house - it matches the only relic he has of his own dad, suggesting the budding sweethearts may in fact be related. When the details of Shun's family history come to light, they reveal the painful traces World War II left on ordinary citizens, a recurring motif in a tale whose central theme concerns the tension between Japan's past and future.

At times, the pic's focus feels disappointingly simplistic, as Umi rallies her classmates to save an old French-style mansion the students use as a clubhouse. But the efforts of the young characters' Latin Quarter Anti-Demolition League represents something larger than the fate of the building itself, though the point may well be lost on foreign auds. Breathtaking in their own right, "Poppy Hill's" beautiful vistas and bustling cityscapes reflect the effects of modernization on Japan itself, especially during the students' trip into Tokyo to plead their case directly to the school board's chairman.

Whereas Hayao Miyazaki looked upon the country's boat- and pollution-clogged harbors with grim reproach in "Ponyo," father and son alike see them as a symbol of national pride and progress in this context. And yet, "Poppy Hill" argues the need to maintain one's ties to the past, even for a nation shamed, demoralized and eager to erase its recent history.

Certainly the young characters cannot move forward without untangling the specifics of their own family histories. The same principle applies to the country as a whole, and it seems somehow fitting that the increasingly antiquated medium of hard-drawn animation would serve to make the point here. The jury's still out on whether Goro Miyazaki can sustain his father's legacy as storyteller, though with its beautiful visuals and songs, "Poppy Hill" finds a deserving, if modest, place among its Studio Ghibli peers.

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 8, 2011.

Contact Peter Debruge at

Washington Post

4 April 2013

Ann Hornaday reviews ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’

By Ann Hornaday

For a lucky cadre of moviegoing families, simply uttering the name “Miyazaki” is enough to send them straight to Fandango to scoop up tickets to the Japanese director’s latest anime charmer. Anyone familiar with Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away” can attest to the enchanted web he’s been weaving for three decades, telling simple stories of loss, ad­ven­ture and resilience against backdrops of beguiling lushness.

The surprise with “From Up on Poppy Hill” is that the Miyazaki in the director’s seat isn’t 72-year-old Hayao but his son, Goro, who proves superbly well-poised to carry on his father’s legacy. The story of a girl grappling with first love, the absence of her parents and the anxieties of an on-rushing future in 1963 Yokohama has all the earmarks of a Miyazaki classic.

Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger), who runs a household that includes her grandmother, little sister and a group of female boarders while her mother is studying in the United States, has the wide-eyed innocence of a little girl, even as she attains emotional and practical wisdom beyond her years. Mourning the loss of her father at sea some years earlier, Umi transfers her hope and longing to Shun (Anton Yelchin), a student from a nearby boys school who is trying to preserve his gang’s delightfully ramshackle clubhouse from demolition.

The interplay between the romanticism of the past and the progress of the future is the tension that propels “From Up on Poppy Hill,” in which the Japanese authorities are seeking to erase painful memories of World War II and the Korean War as they prepare for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Accompanied by sunny ’60s pop tunes and hand-drawn in the house style of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, “From Up on Poppy Hill” occasionally succumbs to the “cheap melodrama” Shun invokes at one point (parents might want to prepare themselves for explaining why family members are ill-advised to fall in love with each other).

But the film’s tender voice, captivating atmosphere and painterly visuals more than compensate for any narrative weaknesses. From the vibrant red poppies of Umi’s sun-dappled garden and the cool interiors of her old-fashioned house to the splashing waves of Yokohama’s harbor and the dancing oil around a pan of frying mackerel, “From Up on Poppy Hill” pays homage not just to pre-CGI animation at its finest but also to an entire material culture, in scenes as carefully composed as anything found in the domestic dramas of Yasujiro Ozu.

Umi ultimately makes peace with her past, as she makes tentative steps toward promising days ahead. Considering that journey, as well as one Miyazaki passing the torch to the next generation, the film’s exquisite lyricism and subtle tone of aching melancholy seem exactly right. Somber, gentle, transporting and unapologetically beautiful, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is the kind of family film Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Thank goodness Tokyo does.

WVXU 91.7 Cincinnati

19 April 2013

Movie Review: From Up on Poppy Hill

By Larry Thomas

I have a confession to make. I have never seen a film by Japan’s master animator Hiyao Miyazaki, one of Japan's greatest animation directors, and founder of the legendary Studio Ghibli. His films have earned him international renown from critics as well as public recognition within Japan. Among the titles you may have heard are Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki is often referred to as the “Japanese Walt Disney.”

I did, however, have a chance to see the latest film by his son, Goro Miyazaki, for which the father wrote the screenplay. It’s call From Up on Poppy Hill, and is set in and around Tokyo in the summer of 1963, the year before that city hosted the Summer Olympics. The Japanese people saw that event as an opportunity to showcase their country to the world and put the war behind them.

But the high school teenagers in Yokohama, right across the bay, have a more pressing, and personal problem to deal with. Their high school has a ramshackle clubhouse that houses all sorts of academic pursuits and gatherings. The school’s administration wants it demolished as a run down eyesore.

Young Umi lives with her grandmother, siblings, and others at her grandmother’s boarding house, a bright yellow structure that sits atop Poppy Hill, providing a breathtaking vista of all that’s around it. Umi works a lot. She pretty much runs the boarding house, does the shopping, cooking, and laundry, all while attending high school. One day she encounters the daring and charming Shun, to whom she is immediately attracted. How she might have time for a relationship in the midst of all her other responsibilities is anybody’s guess, but as is usual with teenagers, romance, then problems, ensue.

What makes this animated feature unusual is that there are no talking animals, no space aliens, and no meatballs falling from the sky. It’s a very straightforward, heart-tugging relationship film between two young people. The Japanese style of animation is very different from the computer generated American films. Many of the scenes are just gorgeous, and would earn a place of honor on the wall of any art collector.

The original score is also charming, and matches the story well. If you recall a Japanese language pop music hit from the early sixties, titled in this country as “Sukiyaki,” by Ryuchi Sakamoto, it’s heard to good effect here. The love story, as well as the efforts of the teens to save their beloved clubhouse, will grab you unlike other animated films, and you may forget that you’re watching drawings, not actors. Go see From the Top of Poppy Hill while it’s still here.

Also, this review is based on my seeing the English-language version, which used some terrific talent for the voices. You’ll hear the likes of Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Christina Hendricks, Chris Noth, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern and Ron Howard.