Film review | From Up on Poppy Hill – Studio Ghibli departs from fantasy for charming coming-of-age tale

from up on poppy hill

Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli departs from the surreal fantasy of such films as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for teen coming-of-age drama From Up on Poppy Hill, but to most Western eyes the world it depicts will probably seem just as strange as one of the studio’s supernatural tales.

Set in 1963 Yokohama, with Japan caught on the cusp between old and new, the film revolves around high-school students Umi and Shun, whose budding romance is threatened by a long-buried family secret.

Their story will undoubtedly appear slow moving and uneventful to those used to the pizzazz of Pixar, but allow the richly detailed hand-drawn animation to work its charms and the film’s mood of gentle nostalgia proves surprisingly moving. Aspects of the story, however, will probably wrong-foot non-Japanese viewers.

When Umi and Shun become allies in the campaign to save the high-school boys’ dilapidated clubhouse from demolition, it’s the tradition-minded youngsters who want to preserve the past while the ones who favour modernity are their elders, hoping the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics will showcase a country that has moved on from its wartime past.

Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the great Hayao Miyazaki, From Up on Poppy Hill certainly struck a chord in Japan, becoming the top-grossing film of 2011 and winning the country’s top animation prize. Gillian Anderson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Christina Hendricks feature among the film’s English-language voice cast, while Sarah Bolger and Anton Yelchin play the young leads.

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Released on DVD, Blu-ray Double Play and Limited Collector’s Edition Double Play by StudioCanal on Monday 23rd September.

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