Legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is known for fantastical, dreamlike films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but the latest movie from his production company Studio Ghibli is more of an earthbound affair. Co-written by Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, From Up on Poppy Hill is a sweet but rather bland coming-of-age story set in the Japanese town of Yokohama in 1964. Teenage girl Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-language version) helps her grandmother run a boarding house and longs for her mother (studying in America) and father (lost at sea during the Korean War). She meets a cute boy, Shun (Anton Yelchin), at school, and helps him and his friends restore an old clubhouse to keep the administration from tearing it down.
That’s about it in terms of plot, aside from a late-breaking revelation that seems to threaten Umi and Shun’s young love, but is quickly resolved. Umi and Shun’s romance is pleasant but dull, and the clubhouse crisis is decidedly low-stakes. There’s some nice period atmosphere in the look at Japan as it continues to rebuild following World War II (with the looming 1964 Tokyo Olympics as an important milestone), but too much of the movie feels generic, like it could take place in any time period in any place. The elder Miyazaki’s films are sometimes baffling and obtuse, but they are at least always distinctive. With From Up on Poppy Hill, his son has created something more straightforward but less interesting to watch.