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From Up On Poppy Hill Theatrical Review

4 min read
From Up On Poppy Hill
From Up On Poppy Hill

What they say:
“GKIDS is extremely proud to present the highly anticipated new film from Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and many other animated masterpieces. Written by legendary studio founder Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Goro Miyazaki, From Up on Poppy Hill marks the first feature film collaboration between father and son. The results are stunning – a pure, sincere, nuanced and heartfelt film that signals yet another triumph for the esteemed studio.”

Recently, I went to a screening of From Up On Poppy Hill, the newest Studio Ghibli movie to come to U.S. theaters. The film is currently making a tour of the United States, and will be coming to my area, AtlantaGeorgia, on April 19. However, the local arm of the Consulate General of Japan, was kind enough to do a one time pre-screening at Landmark Midtown Theater for anyone who wanted to register and attend. So I and a couple friends from Anime Weekend Atlanta (along with a pretty decent sized crowd) took up the invitation.

At the start we see a young woman named Umi preparing meals with her grandmother, a few female boarders and her little brother. She hoists up a pair of flags for tugboats to see as part of her daily routine and heads off to her local high school KonanAcademy with two of her friends. One of her girlfriends shows her the school newspaper which seems to have an anonymous personal ad directed toward Umi, since it’s addressed to ‘the girl who posts the flags: why do you send your thoughts to the sky?’

Later, she has lunch with her girlfriends, while off to the side, the pool is uncovered, and one of her male classmates (with egging from his friends) jumps off the roof, bounces of a tree and dives into the pool. Umi runs to pull him out and eventually realizes all the boys are taking pictures of the two of them and that he’s smiling about it… right before she dumps him back into the pool.

The next day, the school newspaper runs with a lead story “Save Our Clubhouse From Demolition,” but with the side story carrying pictures from yesterday’s stunt. Umi meets her friend Sora who is super excited because she’s just bought a picture of the mystery boy in mid-dive and wants to go find him somehow so he can autograph it. Sora bugs Umi to go to the newspaper with her to find out who he is and Umi (after initially refusing to go along) eventually tags along. They come to the somewhat dilapidated building, which the school wishes to tear down and make way for the impending 1964 Olympics. Inside, the girls meet (predominantly male) members from various extracurricular clubs such as astronomy and philosophy before getting to the student newspaper office. There the girls meet two of the reporters / photographers as well as the editor… who just so happens to have a very familiar face. He introduces himself as Shun Kazama and asks Umi to help him create stencils while his friend smoothly escorts Sora outside, and thus our two eventual leads begin to get to know each other.

The story here written by Hayao Miyazaki is a solid one. It focuses on the teens getting to know one another logically, though in a somewhat complex manner. We come to understand Shun’s life a bit as he’s dropped off by his tugboat–driving dad every day for school and we see his world connect to Umi’s. The main focus comes to be how they (and everyone else eventually) work to save the clubhouse from destruction. In the interim, both characters are developed richly enough so that you do want to see them overcome the problems they encounter professionally and personally. This aspect places From Up On Poppy Hill alongside Studio Ghibli’s best romantic introspective works such as Whispers of the Heart and Only Yesterday.

The animation efforts directed by Goro Miyazaki are equally solid. As a sophomore effort to his ill-fated adaptation of Ursula LeGuerrin’s Tales of Earthsea series, the younger Miyazakai benefits greatly from having a stronger story to work on. The characters designed by veteran animator Katsuya Kondo (Kiki’s Delivery Service) have some beautiful backgrounds to walk through such as 1960s post-war Yokohama, which is very detailed and alive. It’s not seen much in the film but definitely a nice extra character of sorts when presented. The clubhouse itself is just as lively with all the kids running through and either doing their given activities or trying to recruit new members. Goro’s animation techniques capture the nuances of old buildings with dark corners, semi-sturdy floors and creaking wood all over. His techniques also depict the experience and perils of sea travel wonderfully with fog and steel mixing for sometimes dangerous times not found on land.

Characters, story and art stylings must be on point for a good animated feature to be worth repeated viewings. From Up On Poppy Hill very much qualifies on that score. The screening I attended presented Japanese dialogue with English subtitles, though there has been an American audio track I wanted to hear with considerable voice talent attached. Anton Yelchtin, Chris Noth, Jamie Lee Curtis and Christina Hendricks are all attached so I was hoping to hear their performances. When the movie comes to my city in a couple weeks, I’m hoping to experience that version as well. Even if it’s a repeat of the Japanese presentation, though I’ll be just as happy to see this movie and catch any missed details. This Miyazaki collaboration yielded good results and gives me a bit more faith in Goro Miyazaki’s future.

Grade: A

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