Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Aubrey Plaza, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Charlie Saxton, Chris Noth, Beau Bridges, Isabelle Fuhrman, Alex Wolff, Emily Osment, Ron Howard, Jeff Dunham, and Jake Steinfeld
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, based on a comic by Tetsuro Sayama, Chizuru Takahashi
Directed by: Goro Miyazaki
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images
Running Time: 91
Date: 03/29/2013
IMDB

From Up on Poppy Hill (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Club Mission

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The latest Studio Ghibli production features a screenplay by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and is directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki. Now, Miyazaki has been contributing to screenplays and other aspects of productions without actually directing them for some time. Some of these have been great successes, including Whisper of the Heart (1995) and The Secret World of Arrietty (2010). This does not indicate any kind of decline in Studio Ghibli's quality. But for some reason From Up on Poppy Hill just doesn't have the magical, immersive quality as their best.

What remains is certainly fine, and still most welcome, however. The story takes place in 1963, as Japan is still working to recover from WWII and preparing to host the Olympic Games. In a Yokohama high school, the boys hang out in a ramshackle clubhouse that houses all the school clubs (science club, newspaper, etc.). Shun (voiced by Anton Yelchin), runs the newspaper and is the most popular boy in school. The sensible Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) meets him at the behest of a smitten friend and becomes drawn to him. Together they embark upon a plan to save the building, whose aging façade does not fit with the image of the fresh, new Japan. Meanwhile, as they begin falling in love, Shun discovers a complex secret from their pasts that may pull them apart.

The younger Miyazaki is at his best inside the clubhouse, turning it into a place of mystery with seemingly endless amounts of space for boxes, books, and cobwebs. Each little corner has been taken up by some special need, and it almost becomes a living thing. But the movie, only 91 minutes, tends to flag otherwise. Umi's homelife, raising a flag for her lost father, taking care of a group of boarders, cooking and cleaning, while attending school, becomes repetitive. And certainly, viewers with a knowledge of the history of Japan will have an advantage. Regardless, there's definitely enough here to provide a quick fix for older Studio Ghibli fans, though children will probably be bored.

Oscar-winning soundman Gary Rydstrom directed the English-language cast, which also includes Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Aubrey Plaza, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bruce Dern, Charlie Saxton, Chris Noth, Beau Bridges, Isabelle Fuhrman, Alex Wolff, Emily Osment, Ron Howard, Jeff Dunham, and Jake Steinfeld.

Cinedigm released a wonderful two-disc set, with a DVD and a Blu-ray. The animation and artwork looks absolutely beautiful, though there seems to be a strange strobing effect each time the camera pans right or left. Sound is excellent. The plethora of extras include storyboards, trailers, and a music video, an interview with director Goro Miyazaki, footage from the Studio Ghibli press conference, footage of Hayao Miyazaki's post-film speech to the studio, a short documentary about the English-language voice cast, and a short documentary on Yokohama.