Thursday, April 18, 2013

From Up On Poppy Hill [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

Every year it seems that we're getting an English version of a Studio Ghibli film released in America. In 2009 we got Ponyo, last year we got The Secret World of Arrietty and now this year we've gotten this, From Up On Poppy Hill. You may not think it, but I'm a pretty big "anime" fan, and Studio Ghibli is THE BEST when it comes to Japanese animation. From Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, to Kiki's Delivery Service and Howl's Moving Castle, their imagination knows no bounds. From Up On Poppy Hill is no exception, where Hayao and Gorō Miyazaki take us into the bright and colorful world of living in a port city in the 1960s.

From Up On Poppy Hill follows the story of 16-year old Umi (Masami Nagasawa / Sarah Bolger) who lives and goes to school in the Japanese port city of Yokohama. Her mother Ryoko (Jun Fubuki / Jamie Lee Curtis) is studying medicine in America. Which leaves her to care of a boarding house, Coquelicot Manor, and her younger siblings, Sora and Riku (Haruka Shiraishi and Tsubasa Kobayashi / Isabelle Fuhrman and Alex Wolff), grandmother, Hana (Keiko Takeshita / Gillian Anderson), a college student and doctor in training, Sachiko and Miki (Rumi Hiiragi and Yuriko Ishida / Aubrey Plaza and Christina Hendricks), who are living with them too. Each morning Umi raises flags that reads the message, "I pray for safe voyages". One day a poem about the flags is written by Shun (Junichi Okada / Anton Yelchin), a member of the schools journalism club, as he sees them riding in a tug boat one day. Umi first meets Shun when he dives off the roof into a pool of water as a stunt, she is not pleased. They meet again when Umi takes Sora to the Quartier Latin, an old building that houses the school's clubs. Umi finds out that Shun is actually a lead publisher for the paper. Shun convinces Umi to help the paper out, to which she agrees. It is suggested that the Quartier Latin be demolished. Shun and Umi convince their respective sides, the boys and girls of the school, to help renovate the building. One night back at Coquelicot Manor, Umi shows Shun a picture of three younger naval men. One of them being Yūichirō Sawamura, her father who died in the Korean War. Shun has a duplicate of the picture and fears that they may be related by blood, causing him to cut Umi off. Turbulent times may be ahead for Shun, Umi and the school. Relationships are forged as a united school tries to save a now treasured building.

Let me start this by clarifying that I watched the original Japanese version, with subtitles, and have not seen the English dubbed version as of yet. So I'm basing some this more off the voice acting of the Japanese actors. Though I'm sure the English ones did fine as well, the story is more than good enough to not be ruined by a lacking dubbing. The voice acting this seems like a good place to start as I thought everyone did pretty good. Sometimes, at least for me, there's always this one character that just sounds overly annoying. I didn't feel that about anyone in this. Masami Nagasawa, as Umi, was really the centerpiece and carried the movie well. When Junichi Okada comes in as Shun, it really helps ease off Masami as well. Both are the pillars of this film and they sounded nice. I never really got into anyone else, and almost everyone else is a secondary character compared to them. But, the story, and backstory, for Umi and Shun, is written so well, alongside the subplot of the Quartier Latin, that you almost forget that there could be others in a given scene. Speaking of the story it was alright. Not mind bending like some of Hayao and Ghibli's previous work, but this drama was pretty good. Once it kicks in, as in the photo is revealed and the renovations begin, everything picks up and bit and it becomes and interesting watch. You would think a "love story" of sorts set in a port town wouldn't keep your interest, but if you give this a shot I think you'll be hooked like I was. Writing and voice acting was pretty good in this and made for a good watch.

But no no, this isn't all. The characters are pretty damn cool. I already mentioned the crafting of Umi and Shun, but they are done so well. The fact that they led completely different lives and possibly being closer than they ever imagined, it's just cool to watch unfold. The rest of the characters are fun as well, as the school as a whole takes on a life of it's own too. You don't think of the girls and boys of the school as individuals, but as a singular piece of a supporting story. The same can also be said of all the people living in Coquelicot Manor with Umi. While a lot don't get a ton of time of screen, when Umi is home you start to expect at some point someone will get their due. Finally we'll get to the animation, which may be the best part of From Up On Poppy Hill. It's amazing! Set in a port town you get the vibrant sea life mixed with a thriving city. The colors are bright and vivid and the animation style is great. Never over the top or in your face. You'll be entrenched by the hustle and the bustle, and if you're like me, left longing for the dishes made by Umi. Everything Studio Ghibli is top notch, so you should almost have no reservations about that going into watching this. A few other points, as for me, it kinda feels long. While I love a ton about this, it feels long. With a run time of only 91 minutes it really shouldn't. I think part of it maybe the lack of character depth, but some of the scenes do drag. The music is this is pretty good too, but I was kinda caught off guard by the opening song. "Sunrise -The Breakfast Song" sung by Aoi Teshima is cute alongside the animation  but felt odd to me. Other than that I enjoyed the highly rich score.

From Up On Poppy Hill is another good Studio Ghibli release. Though it does kinda surprise me they decided to release this in America so soon. I guess after the "wateriness" of Ponyo they figured that they'd try their hand at a more adult story on the coast. If that makes any sense. This is a pretty deep movie and I think adults will like the story while kids will enjoy the "fun" parts sprinkled in. The story is great, the voice acting is good, the character development is a bit lacking, but the animation more than makes up for it. If you can see this in it original language, I'd highly suggest it for Masami Nagasawa and Junichi Okada's performances. Otherwise, I'm sure most people would be just fine with the English dub. This is a movie that is Studio Ghibli to its core and a fun little watch.

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