Nepotism is common place in the worlds of filmmaking, it is just a fact of life...but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. "From Up On Poppy Hill" is the latest animated opus from the minds at Studio Ghibli and from the father/son team synonymous with Japanese animation we get a lovely little film, that will be unlike anything that audience will be expecting.
Set in Yokohama in 1963, "From Up On Poppy Hill" is a lovingly hand-drawn film that centers on Umi and Shun and their unlikely budding romance that develops as they join forces to save their high school’s ramshackle clubhouse from demolition only to learn that their fledgling romance has more drama to it than either of them could possible imagine.
Not the kind of fantasy filled tale that we are used to from Goro Miyazaki and more famously from his father Hayao who co-wrote the script with his son, instead we get a sweet coming of age drama that walks a lovely line between reality that still allows an audience to maintain a certain level of whimsy and suspend their disbelief to some degree. In this film that magic is truly in the simple things as the animators recreate a city and a world that is on the brink of re-entering the world stage after the horrible atrocities of World War II. Simple things like water, foliage and clouds came to life only supporting and enhancing the natural drama of the time and make accentuating some of the real beauty in landscape that may have gotten clutter and lost had it all been shot in real life. Basically animation for young adults and up, as the themes of the story deal with some fairly serious issues that come up in a family as well as in life and it addresses them all in a rather straight forward grown up manner. It's not the kind of film that was ever intended to talk down to children, if anything in this story they are equal to the adults in every single way. The overall story arc is admittedly a little basic, but it all plays out with such a simple beauty to it all that it is kind of wondrous to behold that a story like this one could be as beautiful as it was.
Some familiar voices appear in the English dubbed version of the film as the likes of Gillian Anderson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Anton Yelchin, Ron Howard and Aubrey Plaza all turn up at various intervals, but never for one moment does it take you out of the story. This is a film intended to introduce young adults to some non traditional and real world issues and it never gets heavy handed with it all, as each one of these characters are very well written and defined with lovely voice performance to bring them out as they jump off of the screen and come alive.
Picture and sound quality on this Blu-Ray are simple first rate as expected and the special features include the original feature length Japanese version, storyboards, a celebrity cast recording featurette and interview with Goro Miyazaki, the Summer of Farewells music video, trailers and teasers as well as a featurette on Yokohama past and present as well as a 16 page booklet including notes and letters from Goro and Hayao Miyazaki and a video of a speech from director Goro Miyazaki after the Studio Ghibli staff screening.
If you are looking for a fantasy thrill ride for the senses, then this film won't be for you, however "From Up On Poppy Hill" is the kind of film that shows us the magic and true beauty in growing up and experiencing all the emotional highs and lows that life has to offer.
4 out of 5 stars.