For nearly three decades, the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli has produced film after film of elevated artistry, largely under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki and including Castle in the Sky (1986), the wonderfully wackadoodle, when-pigs-fly Porco Rosso (1992), and the spiritually uplifted Princess Mononoke (1997). (The latter, no lie, turned me vegetarian for two years; for context, I should also point out I was cashiering at Whole Foods and smoking a not-negligible amount of weed at the time.) From Up on Poppy Hill, Studio Ghibli’s latest (dubbed into English), is decidedly earthbound in comparison to those transportive earlier films, though it’s not without its charms.
Adapted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa from an early Eighties manga series, directed by Hayao’s son Goro Miyazaki, and dubbed in the Stateside release by American actors, From Up on Poppy Hill combines an agreeably corny university-clubhouse comedy with a fairly straightforward coming-of-age melodrama in which student Umi (Bolger) falls in love with the rakish Shun (Yelchin), even though his uncertain lineage might put him uncomfortably close to Umi on the family tree. (Okay, “straightforward” except for that soupçon of incest intrigue.) Set in the ramp-up to the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, From Up on Poppy Hill engages us most in the ways it grapples with the tug-of-war between tradition and modernity; interestingly, it’s the youth here clamoring to preserve old ways. And even if the film never shares the rarefied air of primo Studio Ghibli titles, it boasts visual handsomeness and celerity, zooming between the tippy-top of the title’s Poppy Hill (killer views) on down to the city bustle at sea level.