With the emotional capacity and charm of a John Hughes teen flick and the drama of an Ang Lee feature, Hayao Miyazaki’s “From Up on Poppy Hill” immediately resonates. It has so much heart that even those who despise anime will find out what admirers of the art form have known for years.
Excellent anime, like any non-animated feature film, can make you feel.
The story of Umi (Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) takes place in 1963 Japan. After two destructive wars, the nation is in a transitional period. The old guard is vanishing, replaced by those who wish to start fresh. This feeling isn’t one that represents the entire population however. Ironically, a group of eccentric and rambunctious High School students find the need to remember the past and their loved ones an important one. That desire to establish your own history is an idea that guides the film. Anyone who’s ever felt the need to know his or her lineage or roots will forget that this is an anime very quickly and become absorbed by the story.
Umi and Shun’s budding romance also plays its role in pinning your eyes to the screen. When Umi and Shun eventually cross paths, you can feel the magic. Their relationship is a special one. It’s so pure and honest. That feeling in your gut when these two characters lock eyes is hard to ignore. It was the same way you felt when you read “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time or even, to a far lesser extent for more tender-eyed pop culture enthusiasts, the way you smirked the first time you saw Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles together in “10 Things I Hate About You.” Umi and Shun’s love, even in an anime, is as real as anything you’ll ever see on the big screen.
From this moment these two characters share the screen, the film changes drastically. The film goes from aimless, yet beautiful, to dealing with the emotional fallout of the Korean War and World War II and actively discusses how the fighting tore apart families. In the case of Umi and Shun, it may affect their chances to ever truly love.
Ultimately, their unique microcosm is proof of how war changes the lives of people. Through Miyazaki’s penchant for warm storytelling, we get this in a way that’ll water up your eyes. The wonderful animation, scene-setting music and excellent voice acting help in this endeavor even more so.
The talent in the voice acting cast is proof of the story’s importance. Ron Howard, Chris Noth, Christina Hendricks, Jamie Lee Curtis and Beau Bridges all line the supporting cast. While their roles aren’t as important as you’d expect, they all lend a hand in making the English audio far from passable.
In a beautifully-produced animated film such as this, the attention to the story is of the most importance. With the depth in the voice acting, the story is never a joke. Between the plethora of twist-turns, the wonderful climax, “From Up on Poppy Hill” never disappoints.
Although it’s a film that many will never expect to love, the heart-warming story and wonderful characters ensure it’s ultimately something you’ll remember for quite some time.