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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: From Up on Poppy Hill

September 2nd, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

From Up on Poppy Hill is the latest film from Studio Ghibli to reach our shores. The film opened in limited release earlier this year and became the first film released by GKIDS to cross $1 million. Can the film live up to Studio Ghibli's previous films? If not, is it still good in its own regard?

The Movie

The film takes place in 1963 in a coastal town of Yokohama in Japan. We hear in a voiceover from Umi about the village she lives in and how you can tell what time of year it is based on the types of boats you can see in the harbor. It is part of her daily chores to fly flags for the ships to see. It is also part of her duties to cook and clean at her at her grandmother's boarding house, Coquelicot Manor. She and her two younger siblings, Sora and Riku, are living with their grandmother, Hana, because her father died in the Korean War, while her mother, Ryoko, is studying in the United States.

After we see Umi prepare and serve breakfast, and get some more chores done, she's off to school. We also see another student, Shun, make his way to school. He arrives by tugboat at the harbor before biking to school. When Umi gets to school, her friend, Nobuko, points out a poem about her in the newspaper. It has to be about her, as she's the only one in town who puts up flags for the ships to see. That day during lunch, Shun and several others from various school clubs (newspaper, math club, etc.) perform a stunt to raise publicity for the sorry state of the building they are housed in, the Latin Quarter. Shun jumps off the roof and lands in a pool by the building (after a short trip through a tree). Umi rushes to help him, but quickly lets him slip back into the water when the photographer for the school newspaper calls them lovebirds. Umi rejects the idea of being in love with Shun, but Shun certainly made an impression on her.

The next day, Sora shows Umi a picture of Shun's big jump she bought. Sora wants to get Shun's autograph, but she wants Umi to go with her, so she doesn't look like a freak. She could have been dressed as a clown and she would have looked normal compared to the freaks who occupy the Latin Quarter. When they get to the Newspaper, Sora gets his autograph, while Umi gets roped into helping Shun. She stays a little late and has to rush home to make dinner. Worse still, she has to rush to the store to get some pork. Fortunately, Shun is biking by and offers to take her there. He even buys her a snack while at the shop. In a very short time, they've become friends, perhaps more. She even blows off her chores to spend time with him. When Shun fights to keep the Latin Quarter from being torn down, Umi offers to help clean it up.

It looks like they will become more than just friends, but... What happens next is a spoiler.

From Up on Poppy Hill is definitely one of the lesser Studio Ghibli films, but more so in terms of scope rather than quality. It is a simple coming of age story that revolves around first love and the past. The past is particularly important here and the film deals a lot with the conflict between those who want to remember the past and those who want to move on from the past. It also deals with how, no matter which side of the debate you are on, the past can still affect you in ways you were not expecting. It is very much a good story, but it lacks the fantastic scope that most other Studio Ghibli films have, like Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. That in no way makes this a bad movie, far from it, but it is a smaller story and you should know that going in. Expectations matter in that regard. While the film tells a much more personal story, it is very engaging. The characters don't go on fantastic adventures, but they feel very real. The voice acting is very good, both the Japanese version and the English-dubbed version. And it goes without saying that the artwork is amazing. You expect nothing less when it comes to a Studio Ghibli film.

The Extras

There loads of extras on the DVD and Blu-ray, starting with a storyboard version of the entire movie. There is an 18-minute interview with the director, Goro Miyazaki, on the making of the movie, the original Manga, and the setting for the film. Yokohama: Stories of the Past and Present is a 23-minute long featurette that looks at Yokohama today and compares it to photos of the city from the past. There is a music video for "Summer Farewell". Up next is a 22-minute featurette on the English cast. There is a 40-minute press conference, which took place shortly after the Fukushima disaster, so they discuss that before moving onto the movie, specifically the theme song. Finally, there is a 6-minute speech Hayao Miyazaki gave after the staff screening of the film.

The technical presentation is amazing with incredibly high level of details, especially in the backgrounds. The colors are equally impressive, while it goes without saying there are no noticeable compression issues or other such flaws. The audio is just as good with very clear dialogue and includes plenty of activity in the surround sound speakers. It is not reference level quality, but certainly worthy upgrade from the DVD.

The Blu-ray is about $3 or 14% more than the DVD, which is a great deal for this type of release.

The Verdict

Studio Ghibli has released another amazing film with From Up on Poppy Hill. It is a more personal take and less of a fantastic adventure than many of their previous films, but it is equally worth owning. There are no exclusive extras on the Blu-ray Combo Pack, but it is still the better deal over the DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Kokuriko-zaka Kara, Gillian Anderson, Sarah Bolger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hayao Miyazaki, Emily Osment, Anton Yelchin, Goro Miyazaki, Isabelle Fuhrman