Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Review of 'From Up On Poppy Hill'

You might be wondering, compared to my other posts, why I'm suddenly deciding to do a review of something.

Well, first of all, I love writing reviews! I used to review plays & musicals back in high school for this program called CAPPIES, my work was published in a couple local newspapers, and I even got an award for it.

Second of all, what I also love is any movie created by genius filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, whom has unfortunately announced this year that he will be retiring after his next movie, set to be released in June.

If you haven't heard of him, he is the brilliance behind various animated movies created in Japan but brought to North America through companies such as Walt Disney Home Entertainment and Buena Vista International.

The movies that Hayao Miyazaki is responsible for are all fronted through Studio Ghibli, and these movies apply to a variety of audiences, from children to adults and beyond. Here are a few of the movies he is responsible for:

There are many, many more amazing animated films to his name, such as My Neighbour Totoro, Castle In The Sky, Ponyo, The Secret World of Arrietty, and Princess Mononoke.

These are movies that I myself grew up with. I specifically have a memory of my grandmother, who passed away this August, dressed up as Santa Claus during Christmas of either 1999 or 2000, and when I sat on his/her lap she handed me a wrapped present, which ended up being a VHS copy of Kiki's Delivery Service, my first exposure to the realm of works from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

These movies each have large fandoms surrounding them, because they have such captivating and unique characters, stories and settings. Spirited Away won an Academy Award in 2001 and Howl's Moving Castle was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

All of these movies are films that myself and other people like me have grown up with, and so we can generally understand as to why fans can be so dedicated to these films, even for those that no longer are or have never been partial to animated features.

Now I would like to look specifically at the newest release, From Up On Poppy Hill.

Based off of the 1980 manga series, the movie is set in 1963 in Yokohama, Japan. It centers around two main characters: Umi Matsusaki, a high school student that lives and works in a boarding house, her father dead and her mother studying abroad in America, as well as Shun Kazama, whom she first meets leaping off an old clubhouse at her school and where she goes to his aid.

A large focus of this movie is the signal flags that Umi raises each morning, and that Shun knows how to read. Before watching this movie I did not know much about signal flags, and if you would like to learn a bit about them there is a link to a Wikipedia page here. The flags that Umi raises simply read "I pray for safe voyages". These particular flags of Umi's are also referenced early in the movie in a poem that is located in her school newspaper. The poem reads:

Fair girl,
Why do you send your thoughts to the sky?
The wind carries them aloft to mingle with the crows.
Trimmed with blue, your flags fly again today.

This movie is far from a typical love story, and not just because of the circumstances surrounding the main characters. Miyazaki's romance plots are never typical, and it is something of a staple of his works. Something that stands out about this story compared to his others is that the main characters are high school age, where more often than not the characters that are the main focus of his other movies are more often children than teenagers. This isn't always the case, such as with Howl's Moving Castle where age is a theme of the movie.

Miyazaki's decision to focus on this age group with his newest film in no way limits the range of an audience that will be drawn towards these characters and the story overall. Like in his previous works, there is a realistic nature in these characters, brought on by the English voice cast (Sarah Bolger as Umi, Anton Yelchin as Shun), the animation led by an experienced team from Studio Ghibli, as well as the direction of the film, done by GorĊ Miyazaki, eldest son of Hayao Miyazaki.

Perhaps the first element of the film to stick out to me was the music, since it's one of the very first things to appear when the movie starts, but the music remains attention-grabbing - albeit not in a distracting way - as well as incredibly fitting. The music fits not only with the time period in which the story is set, but it also helps to greatly compliment each scene. The English songs that the students sing together are also rather beautiful. The first time the students sing together, the song has very pleasant lyrics, but the humorous connotation of the scene where the members of the debate begin singing in order to ward off the school's teachers easily remains.

Of course it is Miyazaki Sr. and Keiko Niwa's screenplay that is the most outstanding feature of the entire film. With humor sprinkled in at unexpected times, the tender kinship between Umi and Shun that graduates naturally over time, and other subtle or grand aspects of the story, From Up On Poppy Hill easily keeps up with the classic films preceding it, able to stand on its own without being eclipsed. Miyazaki creates a strong connection between the audience and the characters in his writing, whether its the main characters, the secondary ones such as Umi's younger sister Sora or Shun's best friend Shiro, or even random club members in the back ground discussing the archaeology club and then scurrying away.

I remember once hearing in the special features on the DVD for Spirited Away where a man from Disney stated that Miyazaki very much has the mind of a child, where he is able to capture the subtleties of humans, specifically children, and inhabit them in his work. One example I remember from that movie is the way in which Chihiro puts on her shoes.

(I wish I had an image to better explain what I mean. Unfortunately I couldn't find one)

Overall, this new story brought to us by Hayao Miyazaki is as original as his other works, and is ultimately captivating, heartbreaking, intriguing, entertaining, as well as a whole lot of other adjectives ending in -ing that I can't currently think of. Whether young or old, whether you've seen the other films or this is your first time interacting with a Studio Ghibli film, I recommend this video to anyone that enjoys a good, well-written story that will transport them to another time, another world, which will stay with you long after the movie is over.

That about wraps things up! Like I said, I recommend anybody that has a desire to watch this film to find a copy as soon as possible, and then tell me,

What were your thoughts on From Up On Poppy Hill?

Give me as much detail as you'd like - I want to know everything, whether you agree with my points or not.

Alright, until next time!

~ 4EvaGeek

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