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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

From Up on Poppy Hill review: gentle as a seaside breeze

From Up on Poppy Hill yellow light

Joyously warm and gentle… though perhaps too gentle to be entirely satisfying.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I keep waiting for another rapturous fantasy like Spirited Away or My Neighbor Tortoro from Studio Ghibli, and I keep not finding it. I didn’t find it, either, in Ghibli’s latest, From Up on Poppy Hill, a historical teen romance from director Goro Miyazaki. Based on the manga by Tetsurô Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi and adapted by Hayao Miyazaki (Goro’s dad) and Keiko Niwa, and winner of the Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, this is the tale of high-schooler Umi Matsuzaki (the voice of Sarah Bolger [The Spiderwick Chronicles] in the English-language version) in 1963 Yokohama, who is kept very busy not only with her demanding schoolwork but also with taking care of her younger siblings and the lodgers in her family’s house while her mother is away in America doing her own academic studies. Her father died years earlier, and much of the film’s joyous warmth comes in her poignant remembrances of him, as in how she raises maritime signal flags outside her home, high up on Poppy Hill overlooking the harbor, every morning in the hopes that they might lead him home, if only in a spiritual sense: she knows he was lost in sea when his ship sank during the Korean War. The grief of families pulled apart by wars in the near past meets hopes for the future right in the middle, where the restless youth of Umi’s school now battle with school administrators to save their beloved clubhouse, slated to be demolished as the city cleans up for the upcoming 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And smart, efficient Umi effortlessly adds more balls to her juggling act when she throws her lot in with cute Shun Kazama (the voice of Anton Yelchin: The Smurfs 2), who is leading the campaign. There are absolutely no fantastical elements at all in this gentle tale, though it is perhaps too gentle to be entirely satisfying. Poppy Hill is as pleasant as a seaside breeze… and as fleeting.

From Up on Poppy Hill will be available in British cinemas in both subtitled and dubbed versions. I saw the dubbed one.

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From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)
US/Can release: Mar 15 2013
UK/Ire release: Aug 2 2013

MPAA: rated PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images
BBFC: rated U (contains no material likely to offend or harm)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Ghibli employs a lot of talented people. But, alas, Goro is not the genius that Hayao is; he’s producing good stuff, but I don’t think anyone will declare it great. Poor fellow! If he didn’t have Hayao for a father, people would be saying “hey, he’s a pretty good director”…

  • Mei Mizukage

    “I keep waiting for another rapturous fantasy like Spirited Away or My Neighbor Tortoro from Studio Ghibli, and I keep not finding it.” May I recommend you see Princess Mononoke? In my opinion it’s THE BEST Studio Ghibli film in terms of characters, story, art, and everything in between.. AND there’s a very strong female lead who you will love! Hope ya’ dig. :)

  • Mononoke is quite old now too. I mean, I’m waiting for a *new* film from Ghibli that’s as good as the old stuff.

  • Mei Mizukage

    True, the don’t make ’em like they used to :( but hey, Princess Mononoke is soooo worth 2 hours of your life ;) trust me on this xoxoxo <3

  • Josh Leitzel

    What’s wrong with films steeped in reality? I don’t think it’s so much as they aren’t making good films, it’s simply that their films aren’t exactly to your liking. Some people prefer everything that’s animated to be a fantasy of some sort and that’s fine I guess. But the people at Ghibli have stated many times after the recent earthquake and tsunami that they aren’t going to make anymore fantasy films for a while, instead choosing to create more realistic films that relate to everyday problems.That may very well bum out many of you and the studio’s fans, but they just have to deal with it. If that’s what they want to do then we have no business arguing with them. Because we aren’t going to get another fantasy for a looooonnnnng time. And maybe that’s a good thing. I’m tired of the preconceived assumption that all animated works must be fiction of some sort. It’s great and refreshing to see more slice of life and dramas such as this. And besides, most of Ghibli’s so called “fans” aren’t even aware of the studio’s countless realism/down to earth films they’ve already made in the past. Movies such as Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves, and to a degree, Whispers of the Heart. They just never discover the films outside of the high fantasy ones or the films that are the most popular. It’s a shame, really. In fact, I much prefer their grounded in reality films to their fantasies. They just have more relatable emotion in them. I’m looking forward to the future.

    And if it’s fantasy you want then maybe Takahata’s upcoming Kaguya Hime no Monogatari will interest you. Don’t expect bloody, glorified action or anything similar though.

  • Josh Leitzel

    Oh no, Goro’s fine. Hayao’s the one who penned the script for this film. If anyone’s to blame here it’s him (even though there’s not even anything wrong with the plot to begin with, it’s as simple as you’d expect and nothing more). And I’ve already declared this a great film in my review, so that point is blown out of the water. An 8/10 that is, which deems a movie a “GREAT” rating on my scale.

  • There’s nothing with with “films steeped in reality.” But not everything real is all that interesting, either.

  • Josh Leitzel

    “Doesn’t it go without saying that my opinion on movies is just that: my *opinion*?”

    Yes. And I didn’t attempt to say otherwise either.

    “But not everything real is all that interesting, either.”

    And I found it to be exactly that. Interesting. A film such as this made by anybody else would have likely bored me throughout the entire runtime, but with their usual style Ghibli managed to make even events as mundane as running up stairs enjoyable and charming. I understand that it’s not a film for everybody (definitely not as appealing to the mainstream as something like Spirited Away or Arrietty, and it’s definitely more accessible to a Japanese audience) but for those who enjoy movies surrounding nostalgia, simplicity and school life, it’s great. I definitely see myself popping it in whenever I need cheering up. Ghibli always seems to know how to make otherwise uninteresting plots very engaging because of all of the little touches. Plus, the beautiful soundtrack and imagery make it even more enjoyable to watch for me.

    I just recently watched Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and it is a very beautiful and tragic story that really presents both the beauty and horror of life, both at the same time. If you don’t at the very least shed a single tear while watching it, you have no heart. Oh but wait, I forgot about the whole “different opinions” part. Still, there’s an undeniable tragedy to it all.

  • Yumiko Ayakashi

    Any plans on seeing Miyazaki’s final work “The Wind Rises” ? I LOVED it but I predict that it’ll probably get a yellow light here since there’s no magic etc. Hopefully it’s not red-lighted. Who knows, you might love it too! :)

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