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Not all Japanese anime is the "pow" "bang" of giant robots fighting. We're familiar with whimsical -often "supernatural"- stories from Miyazaki and others, and also the strong environmental themes that pervade much of Miyazaki's work. Then there's the "shoujo" sub-genre -aimed at pre-teen to teenage girls- which tends to have female leads, romantic subplots, and resolutions involving personal growth. It seems to me "shoujo" substantially overlaps with anime that emphasize nostalgia and childhood. The Studio Ghibli anime "Only Yesterday" (_not_ distributed in the U.S. by Disney, and hence perhaps not as well known) was in many ways a pioneer in this subtype of anime.
"From Up on Poppy Hill", the most recent Studio Ghibli fare, is definitely a "shoujo". It's directed by a Miyazaki too ...but not "the" Miyazaki. Hayao Miyazaki is officially credited as the writer, and seems to have been intimately involved. But the actual director is his son Goro Miyazaki. Father and son share a strong preference for the traditional hand-drawn style of 2D animation over detailed and beautiful background paintings. I found the result quite charming. It's less "realistic" and "action-packed" than the 3D fare we usually see, but more imaginative. This story is much calmer and slower and less frenetic than our usual fare, something I found refreshing.
Despite the placid surface, the story is in fact quite intricate, even suspenseful. Although not "edge of your seat" manipulative, it definitely pulls you into the story and makes you continually wonder "what's next?".
Although released in Japan well over a year earlier, the English version was released in the U.S. only in March of 2013. The distributor for this release is "GKIDS", which is not a name I'm familiar with.
Disney made an "agreement" with Studio Ghibli nearly twenty years ago which suggests they have distribution rights over much of the globe for most Studio Ghibli products. (The agreement has been "amended" a number of times in private, and its exact terms are not known to me.) It's had two important results for U.S. audiences: First, there's now a strong tradition of "no cuts"- what Studio Ghibli animates is exactly what we see, with no "fiddling" in an editing room. And second, Disney has gotten us used to very high quality English soundtracks. In fact the quality is often so high that even anime connoisseurs who don't actually speak Japanese often prefer the English audio (rather than the Japanese audio with subtitles). The traditional rule of thumb "dubs suck" has been modified to "dubs suck, except animes handled by Disney".
Given that "agreement" and its recent history, one would expect Disney to distribute "From Up on Poppy Hill" in the U.S. too. But in fact, although Disney remains the international distributor in much of rest of the world, it is not involved in U.S. distribution of this film. Most likely Disney chose not to exercise its rights in the U.S., either because Goro Miyazaki's previous effort was critically panned, or because some of the themes of a typical "shoujo" -entirely unremarkable in Japan- are considered incompatible with Disney's image in the U.S. (Another possibility is the "agreement" covers works directed only by Hayao Miyazaki himself, not other Studio Ghibli directors. This seems unlikely to me ...although to be honest I really don't know for sure.)
But even though Disney wasn't involved this time, the tradition was respected. The English audio is _very_ high quality, even to the point of translating entire songs, not only for solo voices but even for a whole chorus. The voice acting is top notch, the sync is perfect, and considerable effort has been expended on translating idioms and slang from one culture to another.
My local theater, apparently scared either by the odd distribution or by Goro Miyazaki's previous reputation, scheduled it on their teeny tiny "art house" screen. But there were lots of viewers of all ages, and they seemed to like what they saw. It's definitely worth watching.
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