There's a welcome gentility to "From Up on Poppy Hill," the latest import from Japan's Studio Ghibli animation house.
In Yokohama in the early 1960s, everyone is eagerly preparing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and that means cleaning out the old and making room for the new. Schoolgirl Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger) spends her days looking backward, raising semaphore flags to signal her father, a ship captain presumed dead in the Korean War. When not tending to her grandmother's boarding house, Umi gets involved in the rescue of her school's soon-to-be-demolished clubhouse, home to chemistry nerds, philosophers and the campus literary weekly which is edited by Shun (voiced by Anton Yelchin), with whom Umi shares a mutual attraction.
Director Goro Miyazaki (son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, director of "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo") creates a warm nostalgia piece, a look at school days that is humorous and poignant. Those expecting the fantastical surreal animation that is Ghibli's trademark will be disappointed, but Miyazaki's graceful images and expressive characters are delightful.
'From Up On Poppy Hill'
Opens Friday, April 26, at the Tower Theatre; rated PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images; 91 minutes.