It has been three to five years (depending on if you go by the Japanese or US release of the film) since Goro Miyazaki's last film "Tales From Earthsea." Studio Ghibli released "The Secret World of Arrietty" in US theaters last year and while Hayao Miyazaki was involved with contributing to the screenplay (which he also did for "From Up on Poppy Hill"), his last animated film as director was "Ponyo" back in 2009 ("The Wind Rises" was released in Japan earlier this year and looks to be Hayao Miyazaki's final film before retirement). Studio Ghibli is to anime what Pixar is to computer animation; they tend to have a reputation for producing and distributing exceptional animated films that take pride in affecting your emotions and capturing your imagination in ways live-action films only dream of. Unfortunately, and this seems to be the opinion of only a small few, but "From Up on Poppy Hill" doesn't live up to Studio Ghibli's marvelous back catalog.
It's 1963 and Japan is still picking up the pieces after World War II before hosting the 1964 Olympics. Umi (Sarah Bolger) cooks and manages the home of her grandmother which houses her rather large family. Umi eventually befriends a young boy named Shun (Anton Yelchin) and their relationship begins to flourish, but one little secret keeps them from taking that final leap into a true connection; a secret that could end up separating them from each other forever.
The animation in "From Up on Poppy Hill" is just as fluid and crisp as other Studio Ghibli films and it features some magnificently vibrant colors. Satoshi Takebe's music is the film's biggest asset as it absolutely establishes the animated film's intimate yet somewhat troubled atmosphere. The music leans on the eccentric side as it has hints of Chopin and swing music, is heavy on piano, flute, and jazz influences, and even seems to have shades of show tunes at times.
While the film is incredibly pretty to look at, "From Up on Poppy Hill" is extremely boring. The entire film is mostly watching Umi eat, do chores, cook, and go to school. In between gossip among schoolmates, Umi still raises the flags every morning in hopes of seeing her father return home from the supply ship he captained during the war. The concept is kind of interesting, but after you learn what comes between Umi and Shun you will never look at flagpoles the same again after viewing the film.
When "From Up on Poppy Hill" isn't following Umi and her errands, it revolves around the three storey Latin Quarter building which everyone wants to renovate and save from demolition. As Shun begins to get popular after jumping off the building, the film also introduces a few songs to make it feel like a musical. This isn't in the enchanting or Disney movie sense. It's more of an awkward cramming that makes you wonder why people are singing at such a desperate time.
"From Up on Poppy Hill" has drama, romance, and focuses on the importance of family, but it does so in a really roundabout way that fails to be absorbing or trigger any sort of emotions whatsoever. It doesn't have the sensational fantasy elements that other Studio Ghibli films like "Spirited Away" or "My Neighbor Totoro" have to capture your imagination and isn't nearly as captivating or heartbreaking as "Grave of the Fireflies." "From Up on Poppy Hill" may be able to boast about its outstanding music and smooth animation, but it's far too flat to leave much of an impression.
The Two-Disc special edition of the film includes both the Blu-ray and DVD and over 3 hours of bonus features including the Japanese version of the film, Feature-length Storyboards (meaning you can watch the entire film in storyboard format), Director Goro Miyazaki on Yokohama (17:37), Yokohama - Stories of the Past and Present (22:36), "Summer of Farewells" Music Video, an English Voice Cast Featurette (21:48), Press Conference - Theme Song Announcement (39:33), Hayao Miyazaki's Speech After the Staff Screening (6:14), Japanese Trailers and Teasers, and the US trailer.