“It’s right out of a cheap melodrama,” one character remarks in From Up on Poppy Hill after a particularly extreme twist of fate — yet this film’s gentle storytelling manages to extract the emotional payoffs of melodrama without ruining one’s suspension of disbelief. A film about fathers and children, and the way we use the past as a prism for the present, Poppy Hill is, fittingly, a collaboration between Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and his son Goro (Tales From Earthsea).
Our endearing protagonist is Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger), a high-school student in Yokohama in 1963. With an absent mother and a dead father, Umi has plenty of responsibilities, but adolescence being what it is, she’s dragged into helping her crush, Shun (Anton Yelchin), save a local clubhouse from demolition. If the film were merely a depiction of adolescent longing, its portrayal of that state alone would be worth your $12: Unconstrained by the limitations of the human face, the animators paint remarkably nuanced states of teenage distress onto their principals. (You may be brought back to your own pimple-laden past.)
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Yet Poppy Hill also explores Umi’s attempts to identify with a father she barely knew for the sake of her own budding individuality, as well as Shun’s attachment to the clubhouse out of respect for its past. Some third-act revelations may really test the scales of plausibility, but Poppy Hill ultimately is not about its story as much as the emotional states it probes.
April 5-11, 2013