Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

You might not have heard much about the latest Studio Ghibli film, From Up on Poppy Hill. Disney has chosen not to release the movie themselves for certain reasons, so GKids has picked it up themselves and has chosen to do a limited screening at select theaters with minimal publicity. I was fortunate to have one of those theaters end up being nearby, so I caught the movie this weekend.

Poster courtesy of GKids.
This movie is directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki's son, whose previous work was the critically-panned Tales of Earthsea. Thankfully, this work is much better, if perhaps in part due to Hayao's work on the script, and the resulting work is a nice, low-key slice-of-life movie reminiscent of Whisper of the Heart.

The movie takes place in 1963 and features high school girl Umi Matsuzaki, who helps manage a boarding house. One day, she meets the school literature club/newspaper writer Shun Kazama, performing a daring stunt to draw attention to the school clubhouse that is about to be torn down. Sparks fly between the two as Umi decides to join the cause of protecting the clubhouse (mainly by helping to clean it up and make it look nice).

As far as the clubhouse renovation storyline goes, it's nothing particularly unique, but it's still very nice to watch, especially as you see practically the entire student body go about trying to clean up the clubhouse. Really, the whole thing is like this, though; nothing particularly stand-out plot-wise, but still a nice experience watching.

If you're already a fan of slice-of-life anime, such as Studio Ghibli's previous slice-of-life work Whisper of the Heart, this is a familiar experience, but if you're more used to more action or dramatic works in anime and movies, this movie could come off as boring. The key, though, is that this is a movie not to be watched and evaluated, but to be experienced; you watch this movie as though you were right there in 1963 Yokohama and living life alongside Umi. The show features a lot of scenes where she does a lot of everyday tasks, which is a defining characteristic of slice-of-life, and helps with the immersion experience.

The other thing that helps with this experience is the visuals, retaining a very Studio Ghibli feel as the harbor town is portrayed very lovingly and as a place one might not be too against living in.

And sometimes it makes you want to live there.
The effect of this is that, when the more dramatic and emotional elements come up, you really get to feel them. And this is why this movie works so well; it captures feelings and emotions not by displaying them, but by immersing you in them. It is one of the ways the slice-of-life genre is so effective as a whole, and this movie is a great example of how it works.

For those who are already fans of the genre, this movie is pretty much required viewing. However, even for those unfamiliar with the genre, it might be worth checking out, to see if slice-of-life is to your taste.

If you're wondering if this movie will be showing at a theater near you, you can check the official Facebook page of the movie. Note that theater listings are updated every week, so if your area isn't listed, check back later. It's also worth noting that when I watched the movie, it was with the original Japanese track with subtitles; GKids is doing a dub for the movie, but I do not know if that dub is playing in theaters or not, and if so, which theaters.

That said, there is one thing that comes up that may be of concern to Christian viewers or particularly those who want to show it to children. It does concern something of a plot spoiler, so if you want to read about it, check it out after the jump (and the spoiler-protecting picture).

Japanese theatrical poster drawn by Hayao Miyazaki. Extra-large picture for extra spoiler protection.
About halfway through the movie, it is revealed that Shun's biological father may be the same as Umi's, meaning that the two would be brother and sister, which would be a rather big obstacle to their budding romance. Not that this revelation makes their feelings for each other any weaker, either. This is a bit of a hard theme to have in a movie like this, and could be the reason why Disney chose not to do anything with it.

That said, this is Studio Ghibli, and they're not going to go in that direction, so you can guess that everything resolves itself so that nothing illicit happens (arguably, it gets resolved a bit too cleanly, but hey, if you're looking for something that really explores this theme, I don't know why you're looking at Studio Ghibli for it).

Still, it could be something that's a bit awkward to explain to children, hence why the movie is rated PG. Pretty much nothing else in the movie is objectionable, though.

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