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From Up On Poppy Hill(2011)
Umi Matsuzaki, the eldest sibling in a close-knit family of five, raises a pair of signal flags everyday at her seaside house in Yokohama Bay without fail in anticipation of the return of her father, who went missing in action during the Korean War. In school, Umi finds herself involved in a student movement seeking to prevent the demolition of an old club house. In the process, she falls in love with the newspaper club president Shun Kazama, only to find out that they might be related by blood.
For more about From Up On Poppy Hill and the From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray release, see From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 17, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Ron Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Christina Hendricks, Chris Noth
Director: Goro Miyazaki
» See full cast & crew
From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray Review
The view is spectacular.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 17, 2013
The torch is slowly but surely being passed at Studio Ghibli, though the participation and influence of Hayao Miyazaki, who is now in his seventies, is still prevalent in the studio's productions. While Miyazaki continues to write and direct features for Ghibli at the pace of about one film every four to five years or so (his last two were 2008's Ponyo and this year's The Wind is Rising), there seems to be a concerted effort to pass some of the studio's workload to a new generation, which in this case includes Miyazaki's eldest son, Gorō. Gorō co-wrote and directed Ghibli's 2006 effort Tales from Earthsea (yet to make a domestic Blu-ray debut), and he's back with From Up on Poppy Hill as director of a screenplay by his father and Keiko Niwa based upon a popular Japanese manga from the 1980's. Hayao Miyazaki's Ghibli films are often suffused with a dreamlike quality, utilizing elements from Japanese folklore and containing mystical qualities that make them ethereal and just slightly surreal some of the time. It may seem odd, then, that From Up on Poppy Hill is resolutely down to earth, a rather rare Ghibli outing that dances around the anime niche known as "slice of life", an almost Seinfeld-ian approach that may seem to be about nothing, but which ultimately delivers some profound truths along the way. From Up on Poppy Hill is also notable for its very specific time and place, both of which play into the story in sometimes moving ways. The film takes place (mostly) in Yokohama, a port city in Japan, in 1963, as Japan is preparing to host the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The film's central character and narrator Umi (Sarah Bolger in the English language dub) lives with her Grandmother (Gillian Anderson) in her Grandmother's boarding house high on a hill in Yokohama which offers a stunning view of the ocean, a view which allows Umi to track the seasons by the kinds of ships entering and leaving the waterway. Umi is a hardworking young girl who attends to her two younger siblings, helps keep the boarding house running (including by cooking the food) and attends a nearby school. Umi also engages in a daily ritual of raising semaphore flags outside of her home that wish safe travels for any and all who see them.
Watching a Ghibli film with those familiar only with the western canon of such legendary houses as Disney or Pixar can often be a study in questions. Where are the "character arcs"? Where are the pre-ordained plot beats every thirty pages or so? Where is the music that tells us exactly how to feel? Now, this is not to take anything away from the undeniably masterful work of many western animators, it's only to point out how radically different a Ghibli experience can be (something that Pixar's John Lasseter himself would probably agree). From Up on Poppy Hill follows a couple of Ghibli traditions by featuring children (or at least young adults) as the focal subjects, as well as indulging in a rather slow, deliberate pace. But in other ways, this is certainly a different Ghibli than we've seen in the past, and that may in fact throw some fans for a loop.
The main story in From Up on Poppy Hill is a rather sweet, some might say bittersweet, burgeoning romance between Umi and her classmate Shun. Shun is part of a group of boys trying to save the Latin Quarter, a dilapidated old building where the boys all have their school club meetings, but which has definitely seen better days. Umi and Shun "meet cute" when Shun, in a desperate bid to attract attention to the fact that the building is slated for demolition, makes a daring jump off of the roof right in front of all the girls, who are outside eating lunch. He lands in an old pool right next to Umi, who initially offers him her hand, but who decides he's not worth the trouble. In other words, it's not exactly love at first sight.
Things change rather quickly when Umi's little sister Sora begs Umi to accompany her to find Shun, because Sora has a photograph of his daring jump that she wants him to autograph for her. The two girls are therefore inundated with the comic musings of the various club members as they wend their way through the cavernous Latin Quarter to find Shun. Umi is recruited to help Shun cut some stencils, and that begin a halting friendship which is nurtured when Shun gives Umi a wild bike ride down Poppy Hill into Yokohama to fetch some groceries one night.
So far, nothing too far off the Ghibli mark, right, even with a glaring absence of weird characters culled from folklore or without even a hint of mysticism entering the fray? Well, it's at around this point that From Up On Poppy Hill takes a rather daring turn, one which in less masterful hands could have been downright objectionable, but which is here handled with incredible emotional honesty and heartfelt genuineness. Without spoiling too many of the little plot turns the film has in store, it turns out that Umi and Shun's backgrounds may be more indelibly intertwined than either of them could have ever imagined. This linkage has roots in actual historical events, something that keeps this Ghibli enterprise firmly rooted in the "real", perhaps surprisingly more than one might think is possible for a "mere" animated film.
As with virtually all Ghibli films, in some ways it's the feeling more than the actual plot mechanics that actually end up resonating the most. From Up On Poppy Hill's historical setting gives it a very specific environment in which the story plays out, but the yearning of both Umi and Shun to discover the truth of their past is a universal emotion that anyone can recognize. This film will probably seem too slow for some viewersŚeven those used to Ghibli's sometimes languid paceŚbut there are so many sweet little moments scattered throughout the proceedings, my hunch is even more people will wish the film could have gone on longer. Umi's wishes for safe travels turn out to have rather personal ramifications, both for her and her past, but it turns out that Yokohama is a very welcoming port.
From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray, Video Quality
From Up on Poppy Hill is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of GKids and Cinedigm with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 This is another beautifully animated offering from Ghibli, though it's manifestly different from some of the elder Miyazaki's works in content, style and tone. With a solid basis in a real time and place, the animation here still tends towards a slightly Impressionistic look with regard to the backgrounds, which are often blurred and smeared to look like the paintings that Umi also engages in, but which are rendered here with gorgeous, almost palpable, texture. Characters are sharp as a tack, with excellent line detail (though the mouths are kind of odd and two-toned when the characters speak). The colors utilized span the gamut from really lovely Van Gogh yellows to vivid reds and blues. The interior of the Latin Quarter is an especially amazing piece of animation, with a really incredible assortment of knick knacks stashed in every conceivable corner of the building. And the water, so important to the story, is given a really lustrous, shimmering quality which pops beautifully in this high definition presentation. There are one or two anomalies that need to be noted, all having to do with some of the railings on boats as they pass by in the water. Now, Ghibli may have animated them to pulse and shimmer the way they do, but my hunch is these are probably some very minor stability problems, especially since this only occurs when the camera is panning.
From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Despite "only" offering DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 mixes in Japanese and English, From Up on Poppy Hill features incredibly immersive and in fact rather surprisingly boisterous mixes which don't really suffer from an obvious lack of extreme low end. Rather interestingly, this time it's the Japanese mix which is decidedly pumped in amplitude when compared to the English. It's especially noticeable during music cues, but is certainly there during dialogue segments as well. Both of these tracks have some great surround activity. The opening of the film shows boats entering and leaving the harbor, and there are some evocative horns that call out across the sound field. Later, when Umi is fixing breakfast for her family and the other boarders, as more and more people enter the room, the side channels start to kick in and then when Umi's complaining little brother talks out of frame, he's clearly heard at a distance. The somewhat anachronistic stride piano that opens the film also sounds clear as a bell, with no ringing or brittleness. Ambient environmental sounds, always so important in Ghibli films, are emphasized again here, from the distant sounds of the harbor to the zooming wheels of Shun's bicycle. The interior of the Latin Quarter is also awash in surround activity as a glut of voices descend from the many balconies surrounding an inner atrium. Dialogue is very cleanly presented and well prioritized in the mix, though occasionally the music tends to slightly overpower things. This film perhaps has a bit less dynamic range than some of Ghibli's more overt fantasy offerings, but there is still quite a variety to be heard here, albeit on a slightly less extreme scale.
From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
From Up on Poppy Hill is charming, incredibly sweet natured and ultimately very moving. But like most Ghibli films, it defies established conventions and it moves at its own deliberate pace. My hunch is even some Ghibli fans won't immediately take to this outing since it has no overtly mystical or fantasy elementsŚbut to those folks I would urge giving the film enough time to weave its spell. There's more than one kind of magic, and From Up on Poppy Hill definitely has some. Highly recommended.
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From Up On Poppy Hill Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: From Up on Poppy Hill - September 1, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Cinedigm and GKids are offering ten members a chance to win a copy of From Up on Poppy Hill. This Studio Ghibli production received strong reviews for its unusual story and lush visuals. From Up on Poppy Hill streets on September 3.
• Disney Acquires Distribution Rights to Miyazaki's The Wind Rises - August 28, 2013
Disney has announced that it has acquired the U.S. theatrical distribution rights to Studio Ghibli filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's newest project, The Wind Rises, which was a major success when it debuted earlier this summer in Japan. The critically acclaimed animated ...
• From Up on Poppy Hill Blu-ray Detailed - July 18, 2013
GKIDS and New Video Group, a division of Cinedigm Entertainment, have officially announced and detailed the Blu-ray release of Studio Ghibli's latest animated film, From Up on Poppy Hill. Written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Goro Miyazaki, his son, the critically ...
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