This anime doesn’t have magical girls, cute animal mascots, or macho fight scenes. And it is firmly ground in reality, which is pretty rare for the usually imaginative mind of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. But despite, or mainly because of, such missing elements, “From Up On Poppy Hill” is a refreshing breath of fresh air among today’s anime.
Based on the 1980 manga series of the same name, the Studio Ghibli anime film “From Up On Poppy Hill” is set in 1963 Yokohama as it recovers from World War II, paves its way to modernization in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” is topping the charts on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. A young schoolgirl named Umi meets a young schoolboy named Shun and together they endeavor to save their school’s dilapidated clubhouse from demolition. As their classmates join the cause to renovate the clubhouse, Umi and Shun become friends with possible romantic interests… until they discover that they might actually be step-siblings. Will the students’ efforts be successful and will Umi & Shun discover the truth about their parents?
Given how predictable “From Up On Poppy Hill” is, it’s not even a spoiler when I answer yes to both.
Yes, the film is very predictable and goes about in such a relaxed pace. But that’s part of the charm that Hayao Miyazaki has reliably shown through his writing and is often seen in his classic Studio Ghibli anime films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro.” Rather than get bombarded by action scenes or surreal fantasy environments, you can take in Umi’s life in 1960s Yokohama when the Internet didn’t exist and young students put their youthful energy into their responsibilities or club activities with fellow classmates. Though Umi has endured the tragic loss of her father, she finds happiness and duty in managing the family’s boarding house while maturing into a young woman who wants to find love and purpose in her life.
While it’s easy to write off “From Up On Poppy Hill” as so okay that it’s average, an anime that steps away from action and typical marketable tropes is a welcome film to watch either to get nostalgic over simpler times or to take a break from typical anime.
The English dub has an all-star Hollywood cast including Sarah Bolger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Beau Bridges, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Chris Noth, and Ron Howard. It’s a competent dub that catches most of the emotion of the original Japanese soundtrack; though it does drop Umi’s nickname of Meru since it didn’t translate well. The music is pretty and fitting for the anime. And you’re sure to get earworm from generous hits of the aforementioned “Sukiyaki.”
“From Up On Poppy Hill” is available on DVD (SRP $24.94), DVD/Blu-Ray Special Edition (SRP $34.95), and cable VOD starting September 3rd. Extra features included in the Blu-Ray are feature-length storyboards, a look into the English dubbing process, an interview with the film’s director and Hayao’s son Goro Miyazaki, a look into the present and past Yokohama including sites used in the film, a music video, a press release announcing the film’s song shortly after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster as a sign of Japan’s drive to recover (a theme from the film), a speech from Hayao Miyazaki after the company screening, and various trailers. There’s also a 16-page color booklet with artwork, a letter from Goro Miyazaki, and an excerpt of the project proposal by Hayao Miyazaki.