"Studio Ghibli’s outright celebration of movement immediately distinguishes their work. Backdrops become living, breathing surroundings where characters directly interact through dynamic planes."
Bonus features: Feature-length Storyboards, Celebrity Cast Recording Featurette, Interview with Goro Miyazaki, Music Video, Yokohama Featurette, Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots
Turnaround time for televised animation is tight, and Anime in particular tends to be produced in higher volume. A distinct visual approach fettered by technical limitations lends itself to a style generally featuring limited movement. Panning techniques center attention on the environment to simulate the sense of motion. Environments are exquisite but static. Studio Ghibli’s outright celebration of movement immediately distinguishes their work. Backdrops become living, breathing surroundings where characters directly interact through dynamic planes. The journey of descending a steep staircase and the fluidity behind a bike ride through a crowded street impress as much as more sensational flying sequences. Their films are triumphs of traditional animation. From Up On Poppy Hill has a library of modern day classics to compete with, and it doesn’t quite compare.
1963 Yokohama, Japan, a bustling seaside city twice rebuilt sets the stage for this coming-of-age love story, a departure from Ghibli’s more fantastical works. The city is charged with a need for change, hoping to make over its exterior yet again, in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games. Quartier Latin, a decrepit but nonetheless cherished stand-in clubhouse, filled to bursting with mazes of dusty relics, is slated for demolition. The film chronicles the efforts of a group of students to preserve it, and focuses on the relationship developing between the two young protagonists Umi and Shun. This allegory of old versus new stresses the importance of the younger generation embracing their heritage rather than dismissing it. On a more intimate level, Umi and Shun must also learn to come to terms with unsettled past experiences.
"The voice acting is excellent. Characters glide into interiors resembling master works of art."
Studio Ghibli wanted to take a different direction with this film, and with that I have no qualms. However, they have released films in the past that have exemplified understated beauty in simple narrative. Superficially, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a lighthearted film featuring a young witch. Delve deeper, and the film has less to do with witchcraft and more to do with grappling with adolescence and establishing a sense of personal identity. They’ve done it before and they’ve done it better.
Hayao Miyazaki keeps characters at the core, which is why the more abstract elements of his other films work so well. They have a driving force; relatable humanity. What’s frustrating about this film is that it has every element set in place to tell a magnificent story. The animation is first-rate. The voice acting is excellent. Characters glide into interiors resembling master works of art. Subtlety in both movement and expression communicate an array of emotions words cannot. But these constructs are not employed towards a believable end. The beauty of the animation is hampered by stiff, meaningless dialogue and the contrived plot quickly unravels into a messy, anticlimactic ending.
"For a story with romance at its forefront, I found it hard to relate to the characters or invest myself enough to truly care."
I want so much to love this film, and I sat in dismal thought afterwards, wracking my brain for reasons to justify its greatness but I kept coming up empty. While Goro’s second effort vastly improves upon Tales From Earthsea, it still fell flat. In this sense, Poppy Hill’s straightforward story served as better source material than the high fantasy work whose complexities were lost on screen. Although this film is technically a collaboration - Hayao Miyazaki worked on the screenplay - Goro’s directional style is clear and immediately evident. His overreliance on dialogue adds overwhelming redundancy. For a story with romance at its forefront, I found it hard to relate to the characters or invest myself enough to truly care. Love stories should not be identical but they should at some point express the emotion their titles suggest.
Despite its flaws, From Up On Poppy Hill is worth viewing for the rare moments of perfection that leave me hopeful that Goro Miyazaki will one day recapture the magic of classic Ghibli stories. The Blu-ray release boasts an impressive amount of additional content including substantial interviews with the English voice cast, a one-on-one interview with Goro Miyazaki, and a Yokohama featurette shedding light on the real-life inspiration for the film’s setting, making it a valuable addition to any fan’s collection.
Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Reviewed on: Blu-ray | Running Time: 91 Minutes