From Up on Poppy Hill (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 23, 2013 by  


“From Up on Poppy Hill” is a delightful, realistic film focusing on nostalgia, teen love and human emotion.  A beautiful film from beginning to end.  “From Up on Poppy Hill” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2011, 2012 Chizuru Takahashi – Tetsuro Sayama – GNDHODT. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: From Up on Poppy Hill


DURATION: 91 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English DolbyTrue HD 5.0, Japanese DolbyTrue HD 5.0, English subtitles

COMPANY: Studio Ghibli/Cinedigm/GKids/New Video

RATING: PG (Wild Thematic Elements and Some Incidental Smoking Images)

Release Date: September 3, 2013

Based on the stories “Seito Shokun ni Yoseru” by Kenji Miyazawa, “Tadashiki Mono ni Shouri Ari” by Takao Saito, “Gendai no Seinen  wa Doko e Iku” by Teikichi Shiba

Based on the original concept “Kon’Iro no Uneri Ga” by Kenji Miyazawa

Directed by Goro Miyazaki

Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa

Music by Satoshi Takebe

Character Design by Katsuya Kondo

Art Director: Kamon Ooba, Noboru Yoshida, Takashi Omori and Yohei Takamatsu

Animation Director: Akihiko Yamashita, Atsushi Yamagata, Kitaro Kousaka, Shunsuke Hirota, Takeshi Inamura

Anime Production: Studio Ghibli

Featuring the following voice talent:

Junichi Okada/Anton Yelchin as Shun Kazama

Masami Nagasawa/Sarah Bolger as Umi Matsuzaki

Aoi Teshima/Emily Osment as Yuko

Aoi Watanabe as Young Umi

Haruka Shiraishi as Sora Matsuzaki

Jun Fubuki/Jamie Lee Curtis as Ryōko Matsuzaki

Keiko Takeshita/Gillian Anderson as Hana Matsuzaki

Nao Omori/Chris Noth as Akio Kazama

Rumi Hiiragi/Aubrey Plaza as Sachiko Hirokōji

Shunsuke Kazama/Charlie Saxton as Shirō Mizunuma

Takashi Naito/Bruce Dern as Yoshio Onodera

Teruyuki Kagawa/Ron Howard as President Tokumaru

Tsubasa Kobayashi/Alex Wolff as Riku Matsuzaki

Yuriko Ishida/Christina Hendricks as Miki Hokuto

Toshimi Kanno as Nobuko

From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Secret World of Arrietty, comes another animated triumph. Yokohama, 1963. Japan is picking itself up from the devastation of World War II and preparing to host the Olympics. The mood is one of both optimism and conflict as the young generation struggles to throw off the shackles of a troubled past. Against this backdrop of hope and change, a friendship begins to blossom between high school students Umi (Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) – but a buried secret from their past emerges to cast a shadow on the future and pull them apart. From a screenplay by Academy Award-winner Hayao Miyazaki and featuring an all-star English voice cast!

From Studio Ghibli comes a 2011 animated film titled “Kokuriko-zaka Kara” (known as “From Up on Poppy Hill”) directed by Goro Miyazaki (“Tales from Earthsea”) and written by Hayao Miyazaki (“Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water”, “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, etc.) and Keiko Niwa (“Tales from Earthsea”, “The Secret World of Arrietty”).

Back in the ’80s, Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki while on a retreat, discovered few shojo manga (targeted for female readers) lying on the table.  One was Kenji Miyazawa’s “Kon’iro no Uneri ga” and a few other titles from Miyazawa, Takao Saito and Teikichi Shiba.

Wondering if it would be possible to make animation based on shojo manga but at the time, the project was passed over for other projects until nearly 30-years later, when Hayao Miyazaki felt it was time to pursue the manga as modern technology has taken over Japan and the film could be made into a period film.

The film had faced its challenges, most notably as the film was being worked on during the time of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.  Due to the blackouts, the animation process was done during the nights to minimize disruptions but the staff worked diligently to make sure it would be released in theaters by July 16, 2011.

Instead of focusing on the ’80s, to take the time period to 1963 when Miyazaki first entered the animation industry and to take it to a time for when he felt that technology was not as prominent.  To create a story that some may feel nostalgic about but also to show a time of human interaction without the technology that we see today.

Also, a departure from Studio Ghibli films that incorporate fantasy, this is a film about human interaction and while Hayao Miyazaki and writer Keiko Niwa would be responsible for the screenplay, Hayao Miyazaki handed the reigns of direction to his son Goro (who directed “Tales from Earthsea”).

And now “From Up on Poppy Hill” will be released on Blu-ray +DVD courtesy of New Video.  The Blu-ray will included the original Japanese soundtrack but also an English dub soundtrack featuring an all-star cast which includes Sarah Bolger (“In America”, “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, The Moth Diaries”), Anton Yelchin (“Fright Night”, “Star Trek”, “Terminator Salvation”), Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”, “The Last King of Scotland”), Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”, “Detachment”), Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”, “Safety Not Guaranteed”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), Jamie Lee Curtis (“True Lies”, “Halloween”, “A Fish Called Wanda”), Bruce Dern (“Django Unchained”, “Monster”), Chris Noth (“Law & Order”, “Sex and the City”), Beau Bridges (“Max Payne”, “The Descendants”, “The Fabulous Baker Boys”), Isabelle Fuhrman (“Orphan”, “The Hunger Games”), Emily Osment (“Hannah Montana”) and Ron Howard (“Happy Days”, “American Graffiti”, “The Andy Griffith Show”).

“From Up on Poppy Hill” is set in 1963, a year before the Tokyo 1964 Olympics and revolves around 16-year-old Umi Matsuzaki, a mature teenager who lives in a boarding house on Poppy Hill which overlooks the Port of Yokohama.

Umi runs the boarding house with her younger sisters Sora and Riku along with her grandmother, Hana.  Her mother is a medical professor currently studying in the United States and her father is in the Japanese military and died in sea during the Korean War.

Also living in the home are college student Sachiko Hirokouji and doctor-in-training Miki Jokuto.  And every day, each praise Umi for her cooking for them but also maintaining the house.

Every morning, Umi rases signal flags with a message to pray for safe voyages for the ships on the harbor.

Umi always works hard for everyone and her grandmother worries that she has done so much since her father’s death and wants her to find a boy that she can love and have a happy life as she gets older.

One day, she reads a poem in her school’s newspaper about flags being raised by a local girl.  The poem is written by Shun Kazama, a member of the journalism club.  Also, one of the head people trying to save the Latin Quarter, an old building used for the high school club’s which is deemed as dirty and unsafe by the school principal.

Wanting to save the Latin Quarter, Shun takes part in a crazy stun to jump off the school building and land in a swimming pool, a stunt that can literally harm him if he makes a mistake.

When Shun jumps, he lands on the tree branches and then into the pool.  As Umi goes to help him out of the pool, the school takes a picture of her helping him and joke around that the two are a couple.

Meanwhile, Umi’s sister Sora buys an photo of the actual jump and convinces her sister to come with her to the Latin Quarter, so she can get an autograph.  When Umi and Sora go inside, they see the students trying to renovate the building led by Shun and Shiro Mizunuma, the school’s student government president.

And eventually through spending more time at the Latin Quarter, both Umi and Shun start to fall for one another.  But when Umi throws a party at her home, Umi shows a photo to Shun of three military men, one being her father, Yuichiro Sawamura.  But Shun is shocked because he has the same photograph, one that is supposed to be his father.

Shun asks his stepfather about the photo and the truth about his real father and is told that Yuichiro, Umi’s father arrived at their house one evening after World War II and gave him to the family, who had just lost their infant and adopted Shun.

As Umi tries to be around Shun, he avoids her but she has no idea why.  As Shun looks through city records, he notices that his name is under the Sawamura family registry and believes that he is the brother of Umi.

As Umi tries to find out why Shun has been avoiding him, he tells her that they can no longer have the feelings they once had, because they are brother and sister, which leaves Umi devastated.

But despite things changing for Umi and Shun, both must do all they can to save the Latin Quarter but can they work together?


“From Up on Poppy Hill ” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is a film that incorporates the beauty of Studio Ghibli films.  Recreating Yokohama 1963 with beautiful and detailed, painted backgrounds, vibrant animation and striking character designs.  The film looks absolutely breathtaking in HD.  Just the small details that are incorporated into the film, from the things inside the Latin Quarter, the detail of objects and environments, its absolutely beautiful!


“From Up on Poppy Hill” is presented in Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0.   Both soundtracks are well-acted, both are well done but the primary difference is how the music sounds.  For the Japanese soundtrack, the music is used on the surround channels and is more dynamic, while the English music portion focuses on the front channels.  But aside from that, both lossless soundtracks are very good.  While the Japanese soundtrack sounds wonderful and very well-acted for the more emotional scenes courtesy of actress Masami Nagasawa, for the English dub, Sarah Bolger does a wonderful job playing Umi and also manages to pull off various emotional scenes.  If anything, I was impressed by both soundtracks!

Subtitles are in English.


“From Up on Poppy Hill” features the following special features:

  • Storyboard – (1:30:41) The entire film in storyboard format.
  • Director Goro Miyazaki at Yokohama – (17:37) Director Goro Miyazaki talks about working on the film.
  • Yokohama Stories of the Past and Present – (22:36) A featurette showcasing Yokohama past and present.
  • “Summer of Farewells” Music Video – Featuring “Summer of Farewells” performed by Aoi Teshima.
  • English Voice Cast Featurette – English dub director Gary Grydstrom talks about working with this talented voice acting cast featuring video of the cast during the recording.
  • Press Conference Theme Song Announcement – (39:33) A press conference not long after the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami disaster.
  • Hayao Miyazaki’s Speech After the Staff Screening – (6:14) A post-staff screening featuring Hayao Miyazaki congratulating his staff.
  • Japanese Trailers and Teasers – (7:11) Japanese theatrical trailers and teasers.
  • US Trailer – English theatrical trailr for “From Up on Poppy Hill”.


“From Up on Poppy Hill” Blu-ray also comes with both the Blu-ray and DVD version of the film plus a slipcover.  Also, included is a 16-page booklet featuring notes featuring Hayao Miyazaki’s original treatment and an essay titled “Giving Up or Being Overly Prudent Won’t Get You Anywhere” by Goro Miyazaki.

When it comes to “From Up on Poppy Hill”, I know there are people who are more into Studio Ghibli films that tend to lead to the more fantasy side.  And those films tend to be the more successful Studio Ghibli films.

But for those who have followed older Studio Ghibli films, you learn that the studio has taken on films that deal with more realism than fantasy.

In 1988, Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata wrote and directed “Hotaru no Haka” (Grave of the Fireflies) about a brother and sister affected by the atomic bombing of Kobe during World War II.  Two years later, Takahata’s latest drama, “Omoide Poro Poro” (Only Yesterday) was released in theaters and  was the highest grossing film in 1991.  The drama leaned towards more realism about a woman in 1982 Tokyo recalling memories as a schoolgirl in 1966.  And in 1999, Takahata went on to work on a family comedy known as “My Neighbors the Yamadas”.

While the realism featured in Takahata’s films are renown for Studio Ghibli fans, it was said by animator Yasuo Otsuka that Hayao Miyazaki has been influenced by Takahata’s work and that Miyazaki gets his  sense of responsibility from Takahata.

Which leads to “From Up on Poppy Hill”, while not a political or fantasy film that Miyazaki is known for, it is a film that he had had on the backburner for 30-years and had wanted to make it into a film.  While co-writing the film along with Keiko Niwa and Junichi Okada taking on the director reigns for the film.

Doing what he can to be faithful to Yokohama’s historical details but also showing a vibrancy for the location, the film is absolutely beautiful from the detail of the environments, the background art is consistent with Studio Ghibli’s determination to achieve excellence through animation, while character designs manage to capture a wide range of emotions.

The film features a Yokohama before the Bay Bridge, before the massive buildings and modern technology permeated through the city that we see today and when people communicated with each other by meeting with one another.

Umi is a strong female character that literally runs the boarding house without her parents there.  She cooks, she cleans, people literally depend on her but at the same time, bottled up within her are emotions of her father’s death and the words of her grandmother to find happiness and to find a person she can love.

She meets a wise boy, a determined teen who writes for the school paper and part of a group insistent on cleaning up their Latin Quarter, an old, dirty house that once housed various clubs on school campus.  But with threats of it being torn down, everyone is working together to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But the main storyline revolves around Umi and Shun, two teens who have grown fond for each other but find out they may be brother and sister.

It’s a straightforward story without any significant plot twists, no dark or fantasy elements, no polemicizing.  Just a straight story of the life of a teenager finding love and trying to protect something that ‘s important to them.

But despite its simplicity, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is a visually mesmerizing film with its beautiful painted backgrounds and animation, its wonderful acting.

In fact, the film not too easy to make, not only because of the March 11th Tohoku earthquake and tsunami but also because director Goro Miyazaki faced major challenges, so stressful that his body couldn’t take it at times.  He cracked a tooth, his hairline started to recede, his eyesight started to deteriorate and his back went out for the first time.  He was tormented by the fact that it was his father’s script and the stress of creating a film that may not match the quality of the screenplay.

I felt that Goro Miyazaki and staff were able to craft a beautiful, more realistic drama but when compared to other Studio Ghibli works, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.  Truthfully, one can compare this film to one Studio Ghibli film and that is the 1991 “Only Yesterday” but both are different from each other.

“From Up on Poppy Hill” is not forced, it’s rather gentle in approach.  It’s realistic but not dark or a film that approaches any major political or social mores.  It’s a film that focus on human interacting, communication and young love. Nothing more, nothing less.

As for the Blu-ray release, GKids/New Video have done a fantastic job with this Blu-ray release by including both the Blu-ray and DVD version of the film but also 16-page booklet.  The film looks absolutely beautiful in HD and the lossless soundtrack is good but both Japanese and English are well-performed!

Overall, “From Up on Poppy Hill” is a delightful, realistic film focusing on nostalgia, teen love and human emotion.  A beautiful film from beginning to end.

“From Up on Poppy Hill” is highly recommended!


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