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From Up on Poppy Hill

コクリコ坂から / Kokuriko-zaka Kara / From Coquelicot Hill 2011 | 91 min | PG | 1.85:1

From Up on Poppy Hill


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Theatrical release date

 15 March, 2013
 02 August, 2013

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 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, March 13, 2013

The animation masters at Studio Ghibli are well-versed in the realms of fantasy, routinely offering odd creatures and faraway lands to adventurous viewers (recent efforts include “Ponyo” and “The Secret World of Arrietty”). “From Up on Poppy Hill” returns the filmmaking collective to reality, avoiding the fantastical and the bizarre to focus on a tender story of human connection, feeling out a delicate mood of thinly veiled emotions while expectedly gorgeous animation supports the characterizations. “From Up on Poppy Hill” might initially come off as inconsequential, yet it actually isolates what Studio Ghibli does best: constructing an evocative landscape of vivid personalities scrambling around a compelling conflict dusted with idiosyncrasy and visual poetry.

The year in 1964, and in a small Japanese port village, teen Umi helps to run a boarding house she shares with her sisters and grandmother while her mother is away in America. A responsible, intelligent girl, Umi still mourns the loss of her father during the Korean War, raising signal flags every day in his honor to greet passing ships. At school, Umi is confronted by the daredevil antics of Shun, a handsome, charismatic boy who takes refuge in the Latin Quarter, a dilapidated building home to the school’s various clubs. As the Latin Quarter faces a threat of demolition from administrators looking to spruce up the campus, Umi inadvertently spearheads an effort to save the building with an intensive plan of remodeling and cleaning, growing close to Shun during this time. As her confidence develops through leadership, Umi is rocked by a revelation that Shun may also have a connection to her late father that could complicate their burgeoning romance, setting out to find answers that could help to settle her soul.

Studio Ghibli doesn't deal exclusively in the unreal, but recent years have kept the company in the business of spirits and magic, making “From Up on Poppy Hill” a bit of a breather in terms of their exhaustive imagination. It’s a story about the concerns of humans in transition, a coming of age tale that seems almost autobiographical at times, adapted from a Japanese comic book (co-scripted by Hayao Miyazaki). The second work from director Goro Miyazaki, the picture arranges its world with interesting reserve, keeping to a low rumble of life as Umi and her domestic routine greet Shun and his extracurricular empire at the Latin Quarter, with the screenplay following these two experiences as they gradually merge together, introducing love -- a heartfelt connection that comes to be tested in a most unusual way.

As with any Studio Ghibli production, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is colorfully imagined, with this feature taking special care to establish a rural sense of peace for Umi’s household, greeting kindly neighbors and taking in the view, as the home looks out over port activity, with Shun moved by Umi’s flag displays, taking to a school newspaper poetry submission to express his feelings. It’s a homey environment accentuated by gentle scoring from Satoshi Takebe (a few warm songs are also employed to unwind the picture) and design accomplishments, which set a period feel to the effort without overplaying nostalgia, while taking advantage of the genre’s penchant for idealizing nature. It’s a lovely film to simply stare at, with cartoon exaggerations of Shun’s Latin Quarter brotherhood and lightly comic interactions between the sexes, allowing “From Up on Poppy Hill” some brevity before it goes back to the nervousness shared between the main characters.

As a melodrama, the film does a fine job extracting emotions from the sophisticated storyline, which deals with abandonment, adoption, and personal accomplishment. It’s not an easy psychological road for Umi and Shun to navigate, and it’s a tremendous relief to find the feature taking an honest approach to their concerns, handled in a graceful manner that appreciates uneasy situations. It’s an adult animated effort that’s perfectly acceptable for older children, following the Studio Ghibli mandate to respect audiences, allowing them to process the complications without much in a way of overt manipulation. Overall, it’s a serene viewing experience with natural turns of conflict and a fluid sense of storytelling, capped with a satisfying, sentimental ending. Although they’ve dabbled in earthbound matters before, Studio Ghibli serves up a refreshing reminder of their singular animation gifts, offering a spare but endearing effort that’s absolutely enchanting.

Starring: Gillian Anderson, Ron Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Christina Hendricks, Chris Noth
Director: Goro Miyazaki

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From Up On Poppy Hill 0 Apr 04, 2013

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