Japanese anime is associated with films that are fantastical, cyberpunkish or require the creative license that animation can provide. But the latest feature from the renowned Ghibli studio co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki, From Up on Poppy Hill, is quite simply a slice of ordinary life.
It's 1963 and Japan is prepping for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But in the harbor town of Yokohama, teen-age Umi is running a boarding house, going to school and falling in love. She's taken with Shun, a bright boy from her school, who helps to lead a campaign to save the ramshackle student-activities clubhouse from the wrecking ball.
The film's small story is set against a larger cultural one, as Japan transitions from the sorrows and hardships of the last generation's wars to being a modern world power. Nearly every scene contains visual cues that show Japan's mish-mash of old and new, while the story illustrates this new generation, caught between the nostalgic pull of the past and the responsibility of leading this new Japan.
The Hayao Miyazaki wrote the script (adapted from a manga), and the film is directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki. While the hand-drawn Poppy Hill doesn't have the sublime nature of studio's best work, like Spirited Away, it's charming and filled with exquisite visual details, such as the bubbles of fat in the cooking pot or the ever-changing light over the harbor.