Fans of Studio Ghibli will be a little surprised by their latest feature From Up On Poppy Hill. This one doesn’t feature any flights of fancy or fairy-tale creatures like their previous movies. There are no wood spirits, giant magical cats or witches. From Up On Poppy Hill is set in the real world and tells a sweet coming of age tale about forbidden love in a port town in 1963.
Umi is the eldest child in her family. Her father is dead and her mother is away for work, meaning that she’s had to grow up fast, taking care of her siblings, and managing her family home which is also a boarding house. Umi’s home life is tough, but at school she’s lucky enough to have caught the eye of a popular boy, Shun. Shun and the other guys at school have problems of their own; the school’s clubhouse is dilapidated and in danger of being torn down.
A romance quickly blossoms between Umi and Shun, and a plan is set in place to save the clubhouse. All seems well for much of the film, but a plot twist rears its head. Despite their wholesome small town troubles, the two have to deal with an uncomfortable development.
The filmmakers aren’t overly concerned with the scandalous situations, though. Instead, From Up On Poppy Hill focuses on the conflict between past and present, addressing this theme in many ways throughout the story The nature of the plot twist) is one way, but it’s also found in how the students want to save the old clubhouse from developers who want to build a new one, and how Umi keeps up childhood traditions taught to her by her father years ago.
The production itself has a great deal of this as well; it’s hand drawn animation, of a historical drama that follows a very familiar story. The characters (And the filmmakers) are aware of the cliché nature to some of the situations they encounter, with Shun even describing their lives as like a “melodrama.”
However this is a case of how a story is told, rather than how innovative that story is. Umi’s tale is glowing with nostalgia from the filmmakers, and should jerk a tear or two from audiences of all ages, despite the fact that most viewers will have seen similar movie plots before.
It had a limited run in American theaters earlier this year, but it arrives on DVD this week. The DVD has plenty of special features, including the creative team discussing the film, but what makes this sort of feature unique is that this movie was in production during the 2011 tsunami. The disaster is discussed in some of the crew interviews, and the creative team describes how this affected production.
Of special note for American viewers is a short film on the town of Yokohama, and its history. Non-Japanese viewers are likely to miss many of the historical and cultural details in the film, and this bonus feature provides some handy insight.
There is an English voice track that uses an all-star cast with a localized script. The DVD lets viewers choose between the Japanese and English voice overs, but viewers can also choose to use a direct translation, rather than the “Americanized” script. Despite the best efforts of Hollywood, the original voice work and script is still vastly superior and absolutely recommended over the English dub.
From Up On Poppy Hill is a change of pace for the studio, and might leave viewers waiting for something to happen. Audiences who can appreciate the slower speed and sweet nostalgic drama will find it very touching. American viewers who caught the English dub in theaters will also want to take a second look at the film in the original Japanese.