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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

From Up on Poppy Hill Trailer

From Up On Poppy Hill movie poster

I've been waiting for a glimpse of this film.  Coming to theatres in North America later this spring, the latest from the legendary Japanese studio Studio Ghibli, From Up on Poppy Hill.

From Up on Poppy Hill originally hit theatres in Japan in the summer of 2011, and served as a reconciliation between father and son.  The screenplay was written by Studio Ghibli's genius emeritus, Hayao Miyazaki.  And the film was directed by his son Goro Miyazaki.  Goro had long been reluctant to get into the family business, having had a successful career as a landscape architecht.  He made his directorial debut with the 2006 Ghibli film Tales from Earthsea.  He originally joined the project as a consultant...then got promoted to a storyboard artist...and finally getting promoted to director.  The elder Miyazaki was apparently furious with the decision.  As Hayao said in an interview at the time, there used to be a rigid system in Japanese animation where you'd cut your teeth on TV shows before graduating to animated films, but a new generation raised with the Disney films of the 1990s wanted to leap straight into feature animation.  He felt his son just hadn't paid his dues.  But, Tales from Earthsea hit theatres, and Hayao Miyazaki felt it was pretty good, and father and son reconciled.  Hayao admitted that the main character in his 2008 film Ponyo was based on Goro at age 5, and they finally officially worked together on From Up on Poppy Hill.

By the way, if you've never heard of Tales from Earthsea, I don't blame you.  While the elder Miyazaki liked it, most critics didn't.  It's kind of regarded as the Cars of the Studio Ghibli catalog...it's not very good, but it gets a pass because it was made by studio know for high quality.  When Disney dubbed it and released it in theatres, it didn't get a wide release, only playing it a few film festivals in 2010, and then they quietly released it on DVD in 2011.

And speaking of Disney, From Up on Poppy Hill is notable in that it's the first Studio Ghibli film since the late 1990s that's NOT being dubbed and released by the Walt Disney Studios.  It's being released by a company called GKIDS.  GKIDS originally started as the organizing body of the New York International Children's Film Festival.  In 2008, they expanded into theatrical distribution, bringing to North American theatres such Oscar-nominated animated films as The Secret of Kells, Chico & Rita, and A Cat in Paris.  In 2011, they scored a major coup when they acquired the theatrical distribution rights to the entire Studio Ghibli catalog.  I think Disney still owns the home video rights.

That being said, though, there's a lot of Disney personnel still involved in the dubbing process.  The dub was produced by legendary producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen "the new boss of Luscafilm" Kennedy, who produced the dubs of Ponyo and The Secret World of Arrietty.  The English dub was once again directed by legendary Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who directed the English dubs of Tales from Earthsea and The Secret World of Arrietty.  And, following the Disney tradition, the dub has an all-star voice cast, including Once Upon a Time star Sarah Bolger, Anton Yelchin, Gillian Anderson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Chris "Mr. Big" Noth, Beau Bridges, Aubrey Plaza, and Ron Howard.

So, given all that, what is the film about?  Set in early 1960s Japan, it's the tender coming-of-age tale of a teen girl named Umi, who has a daily routine of raising signal flags in her front yard which overlooks a nearby harbor.  These flags soon catch the attention of a boy named Shun, and they engage in the typical teenage romance.  And they soon band together to help renovate and fix up the building that houses their high school's clubs.  And Umi tries to come to terms with her father, who died during the Korean War when she was very young.  

It did play a few Oscar-qualifying runs at film festivals in the fall, and many thought that, with the Ghibli name, it would have been a lock for a Best Animated Film Oscar, but it wasn't.  It starts hitting theatres in North America this March.  But, let's be honest, GKIDS doesn't have quite the reach of Disney, so if you want to see it in theaters, keep an eye on your local movie listings for when it hits your local art house.

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