From Up on Poppy Hill. 2 DVDs. 91 min. GKids. 2013. ISBN unavail. $29.95, DVD + Blu-ray: $34.95.
Gr 7 Up–The first moments of this visually stunning film sweep through a hand-painted watercolor setting of a post-World War II Yokohama, Japan, as appropriate upbeat piano music sets the mood. The film’s characters, also hand-drawn, are done in a more traditional anime style which, when contrasted with the realistic settings, underscores the film’s theme of a place in transition. The teenage protagonist is Umi who, because her mother is away in America studying medicine, wakes early each morning before school to care for a household of colorful boarders. She also raises nautical flags to signal the harbor boats which, we learn as the story unfolds, is in honor of her boat captain father who was killed in the Korean War. But at the heart of this story is the tender relationship between Umi and her classmate Shun as they campaign to save the school’s clubhouse from demolition. However, just as their fragile relationship is blossoming, a secret from the past threatens to destroy it. The talented English voice cast includes Sarah Bolger (Umi), Anton Yelchin (Shun), Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard, and others. Occasionally some of the English-dubbed song selections are jarring, but the overall pace and careful crafting of this piece more than smooth out the wrinkles. This would be a great film to watch with a class after a history lesson on post-war Japan, with a manga or Japanese culture club, or simply because it is a beautiful piece of cinematic storytelling. Additional features, including the original Japanese version and a wonderful full-length storyboard version of the film (great for a video production class), will satisfy the cravings of even your most ardent Japanophile.–Chani Craig. Turners Falls High School/Great Falls Middle School. Montague, MA