There seemed to be a slight lull coming from Studio Ghibli as of late.  Arriety, for instance, seemed to lack a sense of peril or danger, while Tales from Earthsea was a bit of a mess in general.  I’m glad to see that From Up on Poppy Hill is a return to form for Studio Ghibli, and, at the very least, makes Goro Miyazaki a pretty good director.

There’s a lot going on in this multi-layered film, from the slice of life romance between Umi and Shun, to Umi’s Topsy-turvy home life.  I was most intrigued by the historical aspect of the film and the plot concerning the Latin Quarter, an old building facing demolition, and the students at Umi’s school that are fighting to save it.

The film is set in 1960s Japan, as the country prepares for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics*.  There was a mad rush to update the infrastructure to accommodate the influx of athletes and tourists from around the world.  And they were successful, both in the improvements they made, but also showing the world how much they’ve changed in 20 years since the end of the second World War.

While looking up info about this period, I couldn’t find any dissent, or anything that would suggest what was seen in the film.  The Latin Quarter, with its dusty floors, cluttered rooms, and paint peeled decor, represented, I suppose, the old way that Japan looked.  The school council, probably in line with the ideas of the time, wanted to tear it down and replace it with a more modern building.  The students, fearing the loss of history, made a huge effort to restore it, and even then that wasn’t enough.  So Umi, Shun, and Shiro head out to Tokyo to directly appeal the school board’s chairman.

Again, without other research, I’m just speculating on what the film suggests.

The characters themselves are rich and fabulous.  Umi is another strong creation from Miyazaki: headstrong and confident, fearless at times too, though troubled a bit when it comes to Shun.  Shun himself is smart, though occasionally reckless, throwing himself twice into dangerous situations.  A lot of the other characters have fleshed out, vital roles as well, such as Shiro, Sora, and Sachiko.  The translation worked well too, and the voice actors used in the dub were pretty good.  It’s probably a coincidence, but Audrey Plaza looked a lot like Sachiko, the character she voiced, or at least her character from Scott Pilgrim.  Though, I was kinda iffy on Anton Yelchin as Shun, but that might be my ear.

All in all, a solid return to form for Studio Ghibli.  I liked this one a lot.

*For more history during this period, refer to this essay: http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/content.cfm/japans_rebirth_at_the_1964_tokyo_summer

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