The setting is Yokohama in 1963, and the filmmakers lovingly bring to life the bustling seaside town, with its misty harbor, sun-drenched gardens, shops and markets, and some of the most mouth watering Japanese home-cooking set to film. The story centers on an innocent romance beginning to bud between Umi and Shun, two high school kids caught up in the changing times. Japan is picking itself up from the devastation of World War II and preparing to host the 1964 Olympics – and the mood is one of both optimism and conflict as the young generation struggles to throw off the shackles of a troubled past. While the children work together to save a dilapidated Meiji-era club house from demolition, their tentative relationship begins to blossom. But – in an unexpected twist that parallels what the country itself is facing – a buried secret from their past emerges to cast a shadow on the future and pull them apart.
More than any Studio Ghibli film, From Up on Poppy Hill embodies a specific time and place and captures the emotional landscape of its setting. The sense of yearning and new possibility is palpable (the upbeat mood is set perfectly by the period pop music), evoking both a wide-eyed hope for the future, and an aching nostalgia for a past that can never be recovered.
From Up on Poppy Hill is a little different than what you might expect from a Studio Ghibli film. The fantastical creatures and folk-lorish settings are nowhere to be seen. Instead what you get is a very down to Earth film, that feels more like a live-action dramatic piece than an anime. That’s not a bad thing however, as the film still feels entertaining and fresh.
I won’t talk overly much about the story itself here, as we already have a review of the film posted on the site, but suffice it to say that it’s a fun little tale. It’s easy for people to watch it and think that it has no point, but frankly this movie isn’t so much about the story it presents, but the feelings and emotions it evokes. More than anything, that’s what makes From Up on Poppy Hill stand out, and resonate with you long after the credits roll.
It might not seem as exciting or entertaining as some of the studios’ other films, but it definitely stands among one of their best and most poignant. If nothing else, you need to see the film for what it is. Fortunately, there are other reasons to pick up this blu-ray.
Picture and Sound
The art design on Poppy Hill is stunning, incorporating an almost painting style for the backgrounds and surrounding areas that the characters interact with. Of course the characters themselves are wonderfully drawn, and while it’s different in style from previous Ghibli films, they’re no less impressive. So it makes sense that everything looks drop dead gorgeous in the blu-ray format.
The transfer is very solid and the colors (which run an impressive gamut) all pop and stand out in great detail. I’ve always thought cartoons looked good in blu-ray and Poppy Hill doesn’t disappoint. Seeing as how the film deals mostly in emotion and evoking said emotions purely through it’s visual prowess, it’s crucial that the film be presented in the best possible light. I’m happy to say that the studios nailed it with this blu-ray.
The sound quality is solid as well, though it’s going with a 5.0 surround sound instead of the newer 7.1 mixes. Frankly, it’s not something you’re going to notice, and the soundtrack remains dynamic and engaging. The slice of life aspects really come through in the minor sound effects. Everything from Umi cooking everyone breakfast in the morning, to the subtleties of following her around at school; the soundtrack makes this cartoon feel ‘real’.
It’s the ambient sounds that have always made the Ghibli films sound so impressive, and they’re presented faithfully here in this blu-ray. While the lack of lower tones make the package seem a little less dynamic than it could be. Even so, it’s not something that you’re going to lose any sleep over, or really detracts from the experience.
From Up on Poppy Hill is loaded with a slew of special features, and I for one, couldn’t be happier. Lately it seems that blu-ray releases have been nothing but bare-bones, with features that fail to excite. Poppy Hill, however, comes loaded with features from interviews with the director, trailers, details on the manga it’s based on, as well as a full storyboard version of the film. While they may not be exciting for everyone, I’m just glad the overall features are more robust than what most are these days.
On top of that, the blu-ray comes with a little booklet packaged inside that goes over the filmmakers’ original pitch on the story, including original sketches. It’s a nice bonus treat for anime fans, and particularly those who are fans of Studio Ghibli. It was a neat little surprise that I wasn’t expecting and gives consumers a little more bang for their buck.
While it eschews the typical fantastical setting and story, From Up on Poppy Hill is still an impressive outing from Studio Ghibli and ranks among their best serious outings. The film is all about emotion and will resonate with audiences the world over. The blu-ray itself is impressive in it’s presentation and all the bonuses it comes with.