From Up On Poppy Hill – Blu-ray Review

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Before we start, let me tell you that I’ve never been a fan of Studio Ghibli films. I’ve watched Princess MononokeSpirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle with each film getting a resounding “meh” from me. The studio’s dreamlike, ethereal, and surreal take on his films just seemed too weird for my taste. Although I dislike the weirdness factor in Studio Ghibli films, their sense of warmth and tenderness is what I love about their films. Which is why From Up On Poppy Hill, directed by Miyazaki’s eldest son, Goro, intrigued me. It seemed to have the same warmth of a typical Studio Ghibli film, just without the weird characters.

From Up on Poppy Hill takes place in 1963 Japan, a time period that plays an important role in the story. The film takes place primarily in Yokohama, a port city in Japan, as Japan is preparing to host the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The film’s main character and narrator Umi Matsuzaki (Sarah Bolger) lives with her grandmother (Gillian Anderson) in a boarding house high on a hill in Yokohama. Umi is strong-willed and responsible beyond her years. With her sailor father killed by a mine during the Korean War, and her academic mother studying in America, Umi’s left to look after her grandmother’s boarding house. When Umi’s not studying, she shops, cooks, and cleans for her family, who appear to spend all their time variously painting, sleeping or watching television.

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The main story in From Up on Poppy Hill is a rather sweet romance between Umi and her classmate Shun (Anton Yelchin). It starts when the school’s clubhouse, nicknamed the Latin Quarter, is to be demolished by town planners. The male students, co-led by the school newspaper’s editor Shun, are fighting to save the dilapidated old building from destruction. Umi and Shun work together on the stencilling and printing of their newspaper, and coordinate their fellow students in a final bid to renovate the clubhouse before the planners move in and pull the place down.

The film is full of incredible emotional honesty and heartfelt genuineness. From Up On Poppy Hill‘s historical setting gives a very specific environment in which the story plays out, but the journey of both Umi and Shun to discover the truth of their past is a universal emotion that anyone can relate to. This film will probably seem too slow for some viewers — even those used to Ghibli’s sometimes leisurely pace — but there are so many sweet moments scattered throughout that you won’t mind the pace at all.

The film is also absolutely beautiful; illustrating every scene with a beautiful attention to detail that reminds you just how awesome 2D animation can still be. Although it shouldn’t be surprising considering the film is coming from the world-famous Studio Ghibli. Also, the film’s score is absolutely fantastic as it gives a very “Nobuo Uematsu” vibe to it, which is an amazing vibe for a score to have. I found myself swaying my head in rhythm whenever I heard Hatsukoi no Koro coming from my surround system.

Overall, From Up On Poppy Hill is a beautiful, heart-warming film that thankfully features less of the fantastical elements found in typical Studio Ghibli films. While there are no magic or monsters in the film, From Up On Poppy Hill is still is a great experience for not just Studio Ghibli fans, but film lovers as well. Even with the recent retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, it looks like Studio Ghibli’s future is in good hands.

Movie grade: A

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Video

The 1080p AVC transfer is presented in an 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This is another beautifully animated offering from Studio Ghibli as the magnificent artistry and beautiful hand-drawn animation are on display here. The lush greens and yellows, soft blues, and warm oranges ripple in Yokohama, transforming every frame into a gorgeous looking painting. Also, you can see the clean, crisp line art and stable color fills. The hand-painted backgrounds showcase every single brush stroke and penciled texture, and the fluid animation is beautifully rendered in high definition. You won’t encounter any issues here, as the video is absolutely perfect.

Video grade: A+

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Audio

From Up On Poppy Hill is presented in both English and Japanese 5.0 DTS-HD mix. The film features an incredibly immersive and lively mixes. Both of the tracks feature some great surround activity as the ambient environmental sounds are emphasized here. Dialogue is very cleanly presented and well prioritized in the mix, though occasionally the beautiful music tends to slightly overpower things. Although the film  has a bit less dynamic range than some of the other Studio Ghibli films, but there is still quite a variety to be heard here, albeit on a slightly less extreme scale.

Audio grade: A-

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Special Features

The Blu-ray features two featurettes: One about the celebrity cast recording and the other about the history of Yokohama (to the music of the film). Also included in the release is an interview with Goro Miyazaki, feature-length storyboards, a music video, and your typical trailers and TV spots. With the exception of the featurettes, the special features is pretty basic for an anime film.

Special features grade: B

If you’re still on the fence, check out the trailer below:

From Up On Poppy Hill is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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