"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, 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 was 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.) Yet Poppy Hill also explores Umi's attempts to identify with a father she barely knew for the sake of her own budding individuality, and 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.
Goro MiyazakiSarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Aubrey Plaza, Bruce Dern, Charlie Saxton, Chris NothHayao Miyazaki, Keiko NiwaIndependent Pictures