Hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics completed Japan’s post-war rebirth. It would announce the arrival of a new democratic capitalist country on the world stage. However, as Japan prepares for the games in 1963, two high school students will come to terms with their past in Goro Miyazaki’s “From Up On Poppy Hill.”
“Poppy,” the latest animated feature from Studio Ghibli (co-adapted from a manga favorite by the director’s legendary animator father, Hayao), screens as part of the 2013 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Umi Matsuzaki is the perfect daughter, who studies diligently when she is not cooking and doing chores for her family’s boarding house guests. Unfortunately, her parents are not present to witness her hard work.
Her mother is studying in an American graduate program, and her father was lost at sea—or at least so she was told. Nevertheless, every morning she raises signal flags in hopes of guiding her sailor father home again. Her grandmother, siblings, and boarders appreciate all her hard work, but there is still a void in her life.
Suddenly, boys come into her life. Through an odd chain of events, the bemused Matsuzaki falls in with the rabble-rousing leaders of the Latin Quarter, a dilapidated fraternity house for her school’s male-dominated academic clubs. As the editor of the Latin Quarter’s newspaper, Shun Kazama has published his poems inspired by Matsuzaki’s flag raising.
Although the administration has decided to demolish the old building, the practical Matsuzaki becomes instrumental in the campaign to save the Latin Quarter. In the process, she and Kazama fall deeply in manga-anime-style love. Unfortunately, Kazama discovers a secret link from their family histories that apparently changes everything.
At least the first third of “Poppy” is solely devoted to establishing Matsuzaki’s small corner of Yokohama and her various relationships with family, boarders, and fellow students. One could say that not much happens, yet it is quite pleasant, in large measure due to the great likability of the virtuous but down-to-earth heroine.
When Matsuzaki begins her sweetly awkward relationship with Kazama, while counseling his arrogant but well-meaning friends, “Poppy” takes on the vibe of an upscale anime “Archie” comic. However, the past will continue to intrude on their reluctant melodrama.
Visually, “Poppy” is quite attractive, but its backgrounds and cityscapes are not nearly as lush as Ghibli’s two previous American releases, “The Secret World of Arrietty” and “Tales from Earthsea.”
Still, it presents an appealing protagonist for younger girls, especially those who might feel self-conscious about being studious or sensitive. Indeed, the film’s tone and characters are all quite endearing, propelled along quite nicely by Satoshi Takebe’s lightly swinging themes.
Reportedly, production on “Poppy” was interrupted but not derailed by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which adds a layer of significance to its story of perseverance and preservation.
Comparatively small in scope and firmly rooted in reality, “From Up On Poppy Hill” is like the Ghibli version of an Ozu film. Recommended for preteens and up who appreciate character-driven animation.
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Cast: Sarah Bolger, Chris Noth, Anton Yelchin
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit http://jbspins.blogspot.com
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