Director: Goro Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Studio Ghibl
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Chris Noth, Anton Yelchi
Yokohama, 1963, a city still attempting to resurrect itself from the nightmare of Nagasaki and preparing to host the Olympics, provides the setting and context for From Up on Poppy Hill, the charming, nostalgia-drenched and at times exquisite new animated film from Studio Ghibli.
It’s a movie in which respect for the historical past often collides with the agendas of those who want to blast and bulldoze their way to the future. Not surprisingly, the movie is directed by Goro Miyazaki from a screenplay cowritten by his father, the masterful Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), who apparently “planned” the film before his retirement. The Miyazakis based their work on a manga by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, and although the narrative may be a scrap of paper tossed in a breeze, the movie made from it is a small, sweet, melancholy triumph. Our 16-year-old schoolgirl heroine Umi (Sarah Bolger provides the voice) cares for her sisters with her grandmother in their handsome boarding house overlooking the water.
Umi longs for her ship captain father lost in the Korean War and for her mother, who is away in the U.S. attending school. She and a headstrong, passionate high school senior and newspaper editor, Shun (Anton Yelchin), whose father is also missing, enjoy a first romance while fighting to save from demolition the school’s clubhouse, the beautiful, tumbling-down Latin Quarter, a relic from Japan’s gentler, more elegant past. Once again, the shadows of the past linger over the young romance.
This is a movie of moods and small savory pleasures, not big events—and certainly not a movie crammed with cuddly creatures who spout pop culture clichés, pick their noses and break wind. As can be expected from Studio Ghibli, the backgrounds, atmosphere and ambience of seaside Yokohama are rendered with stunning beauty and detail. Less successful, though, is the jarring and tonally “off” English-language dubbing by the very good cast of Chris Noth, Jamie Lee Curtis, Beau Bridges and Gillian Anderson; almost as off-putting are some of the mood-destroying music choices. Even with those missteps, From Up on Poppy Hill delivers gentle, sweet enchantment.