In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_a5laehvkoeq05rnsruscxbqjxnw

Wish I Was Here

It is sincere, funny, thoughtful and spiritual, often poignant, and with a deep strain of existential worry running underneath the whole thing.

Thumb_5omusvdwvy5duis2jrck22aecnq

Mood Indigo

Even if you have a high tolerance for whimsy, "Mood Indigo" may still be too much.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

From Up on Poppy Hill

From Up on Poppy Hill Movie Review
  |  

This was a day I didn't see coming. The latest film from Japan's Studio Ghibli, which sets the world standard for animation, is a disappointment. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, in his first collaboration with his father, the legendary Hayao, "From Up on Poppy Hill" (2011) centers on two likable and perfectly straightforward college students who do nothing very extraordinary and are in a platonic romance.

The film's hero is actually a ramshackle old mansion named the Latin Quarter. One of those structures much loved by Hayao Miyazaki, like those in "Howl's Moving Castle" or the floating bathhouse in "Spirited Away," it's a clubhouse unfolding in all directions into performances spaces, studios, laboratories, galleries, and other precincts favored by its bohemian members. A rattling chandelier looms above its grand staircase, which like everything in the building, is caked with dust.

For this English-language version, a high-profile American cast was recruited: Jamie Lee Curtis, Beau Bridges, Bruce Dern, etc. Up on Poppy Hill, above the town, Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) lives with her grandmother in a boarding house overlooking the harbor. Every morning, she rises early to hoist flags as an aid to her father, whose ship sank during the Korean War. He taught her the naval language of flags, and now she dreams this skill will reunite them.

It is 1963. The Latin Quarter is earmarked for demolition to make room for Tokyo's upcoming Summer Olympics. Umi meets Shun (Anton Yelchin), a club member who gives her a lift into town on his bike, and proudly shows her around the clubhouse. She's impressed by the originality and energy of the members, joins in a demonstration to protect the clubhouse and decides it needs a good scrubbing down. With her friends she throws out junk, scrubs the floors, dusts and arranges. And just in time; they hope to persuade Chairman Tokumaru (Beau Bridges) to come for a tour.

This story is accompanied by plot twists, some suspense and fairly routine developments. What's missing are the complex, baroque characters often created by Miyazaki, like the crone who runs the bathhouse in "Spirited Away," or that film's little Karl Marxian shape-shifters. The two lead characters are standard bland figures, round-faced, round-mouthed, unremarkable.

The artistry is peaceful and comforting to the eyes but not especially stirring. Given the pictorial extremes that Studio Ghibli has gone to in the past, "Up on Poppy Hill" is weak tea. Perhaps Miyazaki, as before, has correctly gauged his nation's temperament. "From Up on Poppy Hill" may not look like it was Japan's top grosser of 2011, but it most surely was.

Popular Blog Posts

Reverse Trip: Charting the History of Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer"

A look at the cinematic and political history that resulted in Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer."

Video games can never be art

Having once made the statement above, I have declined all opportunities to ...

The Unloved, Part 2: John Carter

The Unloved, Scout Tafoya's video essay series about critically reviled films that deserve more respect, continues wi...

Home Entertainment Consumer Guide: July 17, 2014

The best new releases on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, VOD, and Blu-ray/DVD.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus