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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

KOKURIKO-ZAZA KARA / FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (2011)

Co-written by anime great Hayao Miyazaki; lovingly helmed by his son, Goro; featuring an all-star voice cast on its English track; you’ve got to figure this animated film from Studio Ghibli, a big hit back in Japan, was originally headed for a major Stateside Disney release that never happened. Was the story too domestic, too small & intimate, too unmagically quotidian? So, distribution fell to little ‘Gkid,’ who barely got it in the marketplace. But don’t let that stop you from watching this total charmer, a star-crossed high school romance that turns out all right in the end. Recent efforts from Ghibli have felt over-stuffed with busyness, metaphor & grisly conflict, hardly the case here. Instead, we get a neat dose of ‘63 Japanese nostalgia, just before the 1964 Olympics certified their post-war comeback. And with the usual ‘more innocent times’ clichés replaced with sharp recollections of a time that felt loaded with real possibility. (In the States, Kennedy called it the New Frontier.) And this attitude helps a bantam-weight story about two high school kids who discover a block to their budding relationship gain a real emotional kick. There’s also a pitch perfect subplot about fixing up a dilapidated, but comfy-cozy Student Union building that neatly binds contemporary social issues into the story. And if some of the characterizations come off a bit flat, a fault less noticeable on the Japanese track, the basic story quickly pulls you in.

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