Now in his early seventies, Studio Ghibli master animator Hayao Miyazaki has chosen to ease his way out of the director’s chair in favor of his oldest son Gorō. Gorō co-wrote and directed the 2006 effort Tales from Earthsea, and made a return to the director’s chair to oversee a screenplay written by his father and Keiko Niwa. Reportedly, Gorō is a reluctant director, but here, with From Up on Poppy Hill, based on the graphic novel by Tetsurô Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi, Hayao Miyazaki participated in each step of the film’s planning process.

From Up on Poppy Hill follows a few characteristics fans of Studio Ghibli films have come to expect. The story features children (or perhaps young adults), and a slow, deliberate pace. But in some ways, this story is different in ways that may well surprise some fans. Set in Yokohama, Japan on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the film centers on Umi (voiced in the U.S. version by Sarah Bolger), who lives in Coquelicot Manor, a boarding house overlooking the Port of Yokohama. She starts each day by raising a series of flags in honor of his father who never returned from a seafaring voyage.

From Up on Poppy HillWith her mother abroad in the United States, Umi runs the house, takes care of her siblings and grandmother. Despite her busy schedule, Umi finds time to get involved in a student protest against the demolition of a beloved school clubhouse. Leading the cause is her classmate Shun (Anton Yelchin). The two highschooler’s are immediately attracted to each other. However, when they discover that their pasts may be more indelibly intertwined than either of them could have ever imagined, things change.

Though the plot is remarkably simple, we get to know each of the characters surprisingly well. Not only do the different ways in which they relate to each other become obvious, but the very specific time and place these teens lived. In 1964, Japan was just beginning to come out of the trauma of World War II and the Korean War. The spectacle of the Olympics in Tokyo represented a fresh start of sort.

As fans expect, the visuals are breathtaking, but the screenplay, simplistic as it is, does a good job of balancing character development with Japan’s rebirth as an international power, growing pains and all.  It speaks to Studio Ghibli’s glowing reputation that U.S. executive producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy were able to gather such an impressive voice cast. Along with Bolger and Yelchin, the cast includes Christina Hendricks, Bruce Dern, Aubrey Plaza, Gillian Anderson, Beau Bridges, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard, and others. There are no complaints to be made there.

While From Up on Poppy Hill isn’t Studio Ghibli’s best, it’s still highly recommended.

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Cinedigm’s 1080p transfer is beautiful. It brilliantly conveys the fine line work of the animation and shows a nice level of detail. The warm spectrum of colors is vivid and clean. The image is clear as a bell.

The audio comes in both the original Japanese and the U.S. English dub, both in Dolby Digital 5.0. Surprisingly immersive, the Japanese mix has a little more oomph than the English one. Even so, both track possess solid surround activity, with nice separation is obvious. Ambient sounds and dialogue are clear throughout.

English subtitles are available.

The following special features are included:

  • Storyboards (HD, 1:30:51) the entire film in storyboard form.
  • Director Goro Miyazaki on Yokohama (HD, 17:37) the director discusses how the film came to be, and the story background.
  • Yokohama—Stories of the Past and Present (HD, 22:36) a look at the history of Yokohama, and the ways in which it’s changed over the decades.
  •  “Summer of Farewells” Music Video (HD, 5:45)
  • English Voice Cast Featurette (HD, 21:48) a look at the cast of the English language version of the film. There are interviews and footage of them recording their parts.
  • Press Conference—Theme Song Announcement (HD, 39:33) The announcement of “Summer of Farewells” as the theme song for From Up on Poppy Hill is ostensibly the focal point of this press conference, although conversation often turns to the earthquake and tsunami that, in 2011, was still fresh. Hayao Miyazaki discusses his original pitch for the film and why he chose a decades-old TV theme song for it. The elder Miyazaki speaks about his desire to discontinue making fantasy films. The performers and original songwriters lend their thoughts as well, and a live performance of “Summer of Farewells” follows a round of Q&A.
  • Hayao Miyazaki’s Speech After the Staff Screening (HD, 6:14) the elder Miyazaki speaks to the Studio Ghibli staff about the film and their perseverance in the wake of the earthquake.
  • Japanese Trailers and Teasers (HD, 7:11)
  • U.S. Trailer (1080p, 2:25)
  • DVD