As the anime community still takes in legendary anime film maker Hayao Miyazaki’s plans for retirement, I find myself staring at the Blu-Ray/DVD Special Edition of “From Up On Poppy Hill.” It’s one of his more recent films that he wrote and his son Goro Miyazaki directed. Whether this was some special father & son bonding time or some training for Goro should he take over Studio Ghibli is anyone’s guess.
I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to decide whether I should recommend “From Up On Poppy Hill” when it hits retail shelves September 3rd. On one hand, it’s a well-told story set to beautiful animation with strong character development that I feel is missing in today’s anime trends. But on the other hand, the story itself is so predictable that I want to bang myself against the wall for a change of pace.
Based on the 1980s manga of the same name, “From Up On Poppy Hill” is set in 1963 Yokohama as it recovers from World War II. As Tokyo prepares to host the 1964 Olympic Games and Sukiyaki is a hit song on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, a young girl named Umi goes about her daily life taking care of her family run boarding house while her mother is studying in the United States and her father remains dead. She meets a young classmate name Shun and the two become friends as they renovate their’s schools clubhouse. But Umi and Shun’s friendship stops from developing into a romance when they learn that they might actually be step-siblings. Will the students’ efforts to renovate their clubhouse be enough to spare it from demolition in a heavy handed message about honoring the past while making a future? And will Shun and Umi learn the truth about their parents?
Getting past the predictable story, “From Up On Poppy Hill” is an emotional and character driven ride. It does a great job of taking you into the 1960s and looking through a maturing child’s eyes with more on her mind than Facebook and video games. The historical setting gives a great feeling of nostalgia even if you never did live through it.
The Blu-Ray has a few extra features that go deeper into the world of “From Up On Poppy Hill” like a look at Yokohama, press conferences with Hayao Miyazaki as they worked on the film after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, and a look into the English dubbing and all of the Hollywood talent including Anton Yelchin, Ron Howard, Chris Noth, Gillian Anderson, and Sarah Bolger. A 16-page booklet of sketches and proposal paperwork shows the effort Miyazaki put into getting “From Up On Poppy Hill” greenlit.
While “From Up On Poppy Hill” isn’t the usual Studio Ghibli film (good luck using it to fill in spaces for Studio Ghibli Bingo), it has a certain charm that makes it worth a look.