September 4, 2013


With the recent news that legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki would be retiring, his Studio Ghibli films will only become more precious to fans.  At the same time, audiences will turn a critical eye to the studio’s other artists and directors to see who carries the Miyazaki torch into the future.  Some would look no further than Miyazaki’s eldest son, Goro Miyazaki, whose recent effort From Up on Poppy Hill is now available on Blu-ray.  The charming tale, itself adapted from the 1980s manga from Tetsuo Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, is a celebration of love in all its various incarnations and delves into some surprisingly mature material.  Fans of Blu-ray extras will be happy to hear that the combo pack comes with over three hours of bonuses.  Hit the jump for my review.

from-up-on-poppy-hill-posterThe Feature

Like any foreign film, much can be lost in translation when it comes to dubbing.  For that reason, I’d suggest watching From Up on Poppy Hill in its original Japanese audio with English subtitles, if necessary.  I’ve watched both versions and there’s just something off about the English-dub; it’s not the top-notch voice cast (which includes Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Christina Hendricks and Ron Howard to name a few), but rather the difficult task of fitting English dialogue into Japanese animation which just doesn’t quite mesh.  There’s also some odd editing choices, such as an English narration over the opening sequence to explain the protagonist rather than just letting the music and the animation do its job, which is how the Japanese version handles it.  Luckily, both versions are available.

The story itself centers on Umi Matsuzaki (Bolger), a high school girl living in a boarding house that overlooks the port of Yokohama, Japan in 1963.  Having lost her father in the Korean War and being absent her mother, who is studying in the United States, Umi takes care of not only her remaining family members but also various boarders they’ve taken on.  As Umi attempts to balance duties at home with her school responsibilities, she meets passionate journalist Shun Kazama (Yelchin), who throws her well-organized life for a loop.  It’s a sweet story of young love that encounters some seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

Outside of the love story, From Up on Poppy Hill’s main theme asks about the consequences of forgetting the past to make way for the future.  Various characters hold on to old memories and old habits because they are unable to let go of the past.  Others, such as a local businessman and a progressive school board who want to tear down the school’s unsightly clubhouse to make way for a new student center, push for a change that signifies growth and success in advance of Tokyo appearing on the world stage in the 1964 Summer Olympics.  The strongest message of the film comes across by way of balance, of holding on to the past in a way that honors lost loved ones and acknowledges past mistakes, but embraces a bright new future.

Speaking of bright, the visual aesthetic of From Up on Poppy Hill is perfectly suited to the narrative.  The bold coloring of the traditionally-drawn characters (which, sadly, is seen all too rarely Stateside these days) stands out against rich pastel backgrounds and rainy-day watercolors alike.  The music throughout the film is also a perfect complement to the old-fashioned story and traditional setting.  My only gripe with From Up on Poppy Hill is that it spends so much time developing the personal conflict of Umi and Shun, that its resolution feels rushed and unfinished by the time we reach the film’s conclusion.

from-up-on-poppy-hill-imageThe Extras

*A minor annoyance: The English subtitles in most of the extra features are difficult to read at times due to white lettering on white background or overlap with Japanese characters.

  • Original Japanese Version 
  • Feature-Length Storyboards – If you really want a look at how an animated feature is built from the ground up (or if you’d just like to relive the film a little closer to the manga), then this is a fun option that takes you through the movie with scene-by-scene storyboards.
  • Director Goro Miyazaki on Yokohama – (15 mins) Miyazaki talks about making From Up on Poppy Hill a period film and the differences between the manga and the animated film adaptation.
  • Yokohama: Stories of the Past and Present – (20 mins) The featurette opens with present day footage of the port of Yokohoma (including a look at the memorial for From Up on Poppy Hill) alongside archival footage. It then takes viewers on a video tour of the city’s landmarks as seen in present day and throughout the 50s and 60s. A beautiful and worthwhile look at the city then and now.
  • “Summer of Farewells” Music Video – (5 mins) The From Up on Poppy Hill closing theme featuring singer Aoi Teshima and a montage of archival footage of Yokohama.
  • from-up-on-poppy-hill-blu-rayEnglish Voice Cast Featurette – (20 mins) Multiple Oscar-winner and voice director Gary Rydstrom comments over a montage of English actors performing the voice-over scenes for the film.  Screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, who adapted the English-language version of the film, talks about the process of writing in English dialogue. Easter Egg: If, while watching the film, you hear a crying baby in the distance, that’s actually Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • Press Conference: Theme Song Announcement – (25 mins) While From Up on Poppy Hill was in production, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated the region.  Hayao Miyazaki addresses the natural disaster in this press conference and explains their decision to continue work on the movie during the aftermath.  The movie’s theme song is also introduced and eventually performed by Aoi Teshima.
  • Hayao Miyazaki’s Speech after the Staff Screening – (5 mins) Miyazaki talks about the strengths of Studio Ghibli, his pride in the film and future plans, while also thanking the filmmakers by departments.
  • Japanese Trailers and Teasers – As beautiful as the theme song is, you’ll probably get tired of hearing it over and over if you watch all of these back to back.
  • US Trailer
  • More Animation from GKids – Featuring looks at such past films as The Painting, The Secret of Kells, Chico & Rita, and A Cat in Paris.
  • Hayao Miyazaki’s Original Treatment – A booklet containing excerpts and sketches from Studio Ghibli’s internal document leading up to greenlighting the film.

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