Review: From Up On Poppy Hill (Blu-ray/DVD)

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Title: From Up On Poppy Hill
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Combo / DVD
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Studio: Studio Ghibli / GKIDS / Cinedigm
Original MSRP: $34.95 (Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo) / $29.95 (DVD)
Number of Discs: 2
Language: English, Japanese
Subtitles: English
MPAA Rating: PG

Audio Review:
The audio review for this disc is available on Episode 334 of the podcast.

Story:
In 1963, Japan was still recovering from World War II in both a physical and psychological sense. As they prepared to host the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, there was a drive to modernize the country, trying to push away the past and look to the future. Industrialization was progressing at a torrid pace with factories, pollution, new roads, cars and buildings all popping up on a daily basis. From Up On Poppy Hill is set against this backdrop and it provides an anchor for the story about a group of high school kids dealing with the past and future in a number of ways.

Unlike most Studio Ghibli films, this one is much more grounded in reality. There’s nothing supernatural or odd going on here so we’re left as an audience to focus more on the interactions and personal relationships of the characters. Great care was taken with the script, both in Japanese and the English translation, to make the characters and their surroundings entirely believable.

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Based on a manga series from the early 80’s, the main story in From Up On Poppy Hill revolves around Umi, a young high school girl taking care of family and boarders while her mother is studying in America, along with Shun, the Editor of the school paper and Mizunuma, President of the Student Council. We see the pressure of running the household and going to school as it weighs on Umi and as Umi and Shun are drawn closer together, a dark family secret threatens to tear them apart.

The themes of past and future are played out in the relationship between the characters as well as their quest to keep one of the older buildings on campus from being torn down and replaced by a new one. The Quartier Latin is home to many of the school’s clubs and exclusively inhabited by the boys. As such, it’s fallen into disrepair over the years and hasn’t been cleaned or maintained in decades. It’s up to an alliance of students to refurbish the old building and fight to keep it from being torn down. The story is really well written and keeps you engaged right through to the unexpected conclusion.

Video:
It’s Studio Ghibli, what do you expect? For the uninitiated, Studio Ghibli is one of the most well-respected animation studios in Japan and well known for their engrossing stories and gorgeous, hand-drawn animation and there’s certainly no shortage of it here. The level of detail in the settings and backgrounds is always amazing to see and From Up On Poppy Hill is no exception.

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The picture on both the Blu-ray and DVD are pristine. Coming from a digital master, that’s to be expected. Of course, the Blu-ray tends to look sharper while the DVD shows the sort of fuzziness in the picture that you’d expect, even when up-converted. It still looks great, but the Blu-ray is the way to go with the DVD being reserved for trips and such when a Blu-ray player isn’t available.

It’s the lavishly drawn backgrounds that make everything come alive here. The stuff in shop windows, the way the gas stove in Umi’s house lights up and especially all the little touches in the Clubhouse. It puts most other animation to shame and harkens back to the early Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry cartoons where the backgrounds looked like incredibly detailed paintings. It’s just gorgeous.

Audio:
For dialogue, you can choose between the original Japanese or the English track. Personally, I tend to go for the original tracks in any foreign film but we ended up watching with the English language option the first time through.

Being a Studio Ghibli film, it’s easier to get bigger actors to voice the parts as you can see from a partial cast listing including Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Beau Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gillian Anderson, Bruce Dern, Ron Howard and more. It’s an impressive list and each handles their lines with style and they’re not always obvious which is a real treat. The Japanese language track is, of course, great in itself and I’m glad that it’s included here. I think it’s always important to include the original language track on a Blu-ray or DVD release.

As an animated film, all the ambient noises and such need to be created and added in to give the movie that “real world” feeling and, as expected, the sound design is fantastic. Crowds, trains, cars, nature, water, food, everything blends seamlessly to immerse you in the movie. The music is also a nice surprise. Much lighter and a bit more playful than I expected at times, the arrangements actually set the right tone for everything we’re seeing on-screen.

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Bonus Features:
Jam packed with over 3 hours of features and *a 16 page booklet which includes part of the original proposal for the film along with a letter by Goro Miyazaki

  • Feature-length Storyboards (1:30:51) – Watch the entire movie with the animation completely replaced by the original storyboards
  • Director Goro Miyazaki on Yokohama (17:37) – An interview with the film’s director discussing the origins and setting of the film
  • Yokohama – Stories of the Past and Present (22:36) – A look at the real city of Yokohama from the 1950’s to present day
  • “Summer of Farewells” Music Video (5:45) – a music video for the film’s theme song
  • English Voice Cast Featurette (21:48) – A look at the English Production Director, Writer and Actors
  • *Press Conference – Theme Song Announcement (39:33) – A scheduled press conference that was held just after the devastating tsunami in March 2011
  • *Hayao Miyazaki’s Speech After the Staff Screening (6:14) – A discussion about making the movie in the wake of the Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011
  • Japanese Trailers and Teasers (7:11) – a series of trailers and teaser trailers originally shown in Japan
  • US Trailer (2:25) – The original US trailer
  • More Animation From GKIDS (9:30) – Trailers for six other productions which can be played individually or all together, back to back

*Exclusive to the Blu-ray/DVD combo

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Conclusion:
Grounded in a much more mundane reality than other Studio Ghibli films, From Up On Poppy Hill relies heavily on story and character development and it excels in delivering a really touching tale.

For fans of Studio Ghibli, this one’s a no-brainer, for everyone else, if you’re looking for an emotionally satisfying story set in a time of social upheaval and boundless optimism, then this one’s for you.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

Trailer:

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