Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From Up On Poppy Hill - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 22, 2013

'From Up On Poppy Hill' is a deeply moving story of young love and hopefulness.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: The Landmark 
Time: 7:15 pm March 26, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D   
Film Rating: PG   
Film Runtime: 1 hr 31 min
Studio: Independent Pictures

Loves: Everything from Studio Ghibli, Japanese culture, love stories that feel real, 2D animation
Likes: Anime, the excellent English Dub
Neutral: Limited release?
Hates: The lack of love 2D animation gets anymore 
The film is based on: A series of comics (Manga)

Umi (voiced in English by Sarah Bolger) is a 16 year girl in 1960s Japan living in a boarding house while taking care of her younger sisters, Sora (voiced in English by Isabelle Fuhrman), Riku (voiced in English by Alex Wolff), her grandmother Hana (voiced in English by Gillian Anderson) as well as two college students, Sachiko (voiced in English by Aubrey Plaza) and Miki (voiced in English by Christina Hendricks) while her mother Ryoko (voiced in English by Jamie Lee Curtis) is studying abroad in America. With her home right next to the harbor, each morning before heading to school Umi raises a set a signal flags that her father, a ship captain who died during the Korean war, showed her how to do in hopes that one day he would come home.

Never having seen a response from any of the passing ships, Umi is suprised one day to find a column in the school paper about her flags. Curious about who wrote the story, she seeks out Shun (voiced in English by Anton Yelchin), an enthusiastic young man who is in the process of mounting a campaign to save the school's old clubhouse from demolition and the one person who responded to her signal flags. Through further meetings, both Umi and Shun begin to discover a connection that is more extraordinary than either ever imagined.

Leave it to the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli to remind us once again how easy it is to get swept away by lush 2D animation and enthralled by a simple story about finding that someone special in your life and dealing with the unforeseen obstacles that life throws our way. Under the care of Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro Miyazaki, who took directing honors this time out, their latest film "From Up On Poppy Hill" continues their longstanding tradition of immaculate visuals mixed with charming characters and a dash of the whimsical to create an experience that is solely unique to Studio Ghibli.

This is the first film to come out of Ghibli in quite a while that doesn't feature any mystical elements, magical creatures or any sort of fantastical characters. Which is perfectly fine because every now and then we need a dose of reality in our animated features. This alteration from their usual mainstream releases over here in the states may actually come as a shock to some who have grown up on such fare as "Princess Mononoke", "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo". But even though their latest feature is a bit more grounded in reality and a little lacking in the magical department, "From Up On Poppy Hill" has an entire different type of magic at work that has resulted in one of their best strongest releases yet.

At its core, "Poppy Hill" is a love story but it is so much more than that strict label. This isn't your usual stupid teen romance about the cool guy discovering the geeky girl is beautiful and taking her to the prom, nor are there any outcast guys who catch the eye of a rich spoiled girl who eventually makes her shed her materialistic side. In short this isn't the typical young love trash we usually get. This may be animated and feature characters that were created by pen and paper, but they are more alive and breathing with life than any character from any other recent drama released.

It is guaranteed that you haven't met characters quite as rich with personality and charm as these in a long time, either animated or live action. From Umi's family to the students held up in the clubhouse, each and every person we meet is immediately memorable, even those who are on screen for only a minute or two. Much of the praise must go to the animators who prove once again that nothing beats hand drawn animation when it comes to the subtle movements and mannerisms that help define a character and their personality.

Every inch of the screen is just bustling with life at any given moment. When Umi first visits the clubhouse it is a visual smorgasbord as she ascends up through its many levels and discovers all the hidden delights of the run down old building. Even the bland hallways of Umi and Shun's high school are a delight to soak in, but what Miyazaki (both Goro and Hayao) just nails is the blossoming love between Umi and Shun and the subsequent drama that unfolds as they discover hidden truths about their family histories.

What makes "Poppy Hill" standout in this regard more so than other dramas isn't just the beautiful and detailed animation, the attention to every detail or all the fantastic characters. What makes it standout from the crowd is the slow and nuanced attraction that develops between Umi and Shun. It is without a doubt one of the most carefully handled and tender love stories you are likely to see this year from any film, domestic or foreign, animated or live action, it makes no difference. The drama that arises from their time together is real and it is honest, which makes it that much more difficult to endure when they come across some unexpected revelations about one another that threaten to keep them apart.

There is of course plenty of humor sprinkled about to balance out these heavy doses of drama that thankfully never crosses over into slapstick. Like the drama itself, the more comedic moments happen naturally and feel organic to the characters and who they are. Most of the humor is derived from the clubhouse and its many inhabitants which serves as a nice distraction from the ever growing complications between Umi and Shun. It may sound like a silly thing to praise, but comedy or levity of any kind, if not handled correctly, could severely undermine all the drama it is built around.

"From Up On Poppy Hill" is an extremely moving story of young love that is another instant classic from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's subject matter may not feature the epic adventures through endlessly imaginative worlds filled with mysterious and magical characters that most have come to expect from them, but don't let that detract you from seeking out their latest feature and experiencing for yourself the magic of top notch 2D animation mixed with one of the most heartfelt and endearing love stories to come along in years. It may feature children in the early to mid teens, but it is one of the most grown up stories of love and tragedy you will ever experience.





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