Featuring the voices of Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Rated G (Violence). Youth discount applies—no membership needed for youth (18 and under). Opens Friday, March 22, at the Vancity Theatre. All screenings in Japanese with English subtitles except: Saturday and Sunday (March 23-24), Friday (March 29), and Sunday (March 31), when the English language dubbed version will play
The feeling of physical time and place is palpable throughout the latest import from Studio Ghibli. The nostalgically rendered From Up On Poppy Hill, based on a popular manga series, was written by Hiyao Miyazaki, directed by his son, Goro, and dubbed well by English language producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, along with GKIDs, in its ongoing distribution deal with the company.
The tale takes place in 1963, as Tokyo gears up for the next year’s Summer Olympics—a milestone in Japan’s postwar transformation. Everything is subject to change for 16-year-old Umi (voiced in this version by Ireland’s Sarah Bolger), spread thin between school and running her family’s hilltop boarding house in the beautifully depicted port town of Yokohama. Her boat-captain dad was lost during the Korean conflict and her mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) is studying in the States. So it’s actually pretty stressful when the coolest guy in school, Shun (Anton Yelchin) starts paying attention.
Shun runs the independent student paper out of a ramshackle old house next to the modern school, and this is one of many fascinating juxtapositions here. The students are not as eager as their elders to sweep away a past they don’t actually remember. And everyone seems to be seeking alliances to take them away from the clans and institutions that would have held sway before the war. The situation with Shun is further complicated because, as an adoptee, he starts to wonder about the connections between his family and Umi’s.
The various plot strands, and somewhat unnecessary twists, don’t always reinforce each other, and Poppy Hill doesn’t carry much of the mystical stuff that Miyazaki senior is known for—and that help justify animation as a unique medium of storytelling. And yet the colour-rich film simply has too much feeling for us to imagine it any other way.