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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