To say that From Up On Poppy Hill is a step up from Goro Miyazaki's last effort, Tales From Earthsea, is not saying much, as the director's cinematic debut was disappointing on every level excluding music and art direction. Goro's second film is a much more satisfying experience, is adequately paced, and contains memorable scenes and situations. With legendary Dad, Hayao Miyazaki, in charge of script and animation planning, I do wonder how much of the effort is actually from Goro's direction. From Up On Poppy Hill can be enjoyed by 5 year olds, 16 year olds and 70 year olds; it is "small," but does not feel overly "small" as the studio's previous Secret World of Arrietty; most importantly, the film is a much-needed slice of life drama amidst a the studio's long list of fantasy-based works such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. The closest film I can compare this one to is Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart, which contains a young girl's personal struggles and pleasures in an urbanized 20th Century setting, a world where compact cars and bicycles abound instead of bathhouse spirits and talking animals. However, the film still has problems. Despite the fact that Goro has finally learned to grab viewers' attention, there is a certain lack of imagination and overall "goodness" in this film, which is present in most of the studio's works. While I did appreciate the painstaking detail in animation and backgrounds (from the bits and pieces of junk laying around the clubhouse to the gorgeously realistic portrayals of a city during an afternoon rainstorm,) I felt like the characters were at times expressionless and went through Ghibli-esque motions instead of acting how real people act. In turn, many scenes were cut short before they reached an emotional pinnacle. Two examples: First, when Umi helps Shun with the school paper, the two are alone in a room and this would have been a wonderful opportunity for dialogue showing their mutual attraction; Goro could have at least include one or two carefully-placed lovey-dovey side glances. But due to this lack of character interaction, I felt the scene was a bit flat. The second, and more glaring, example is the frustrating finale, in which Umi and Shun rush to board a ship in the harbor to discover once and for all the truth about their biological relationship. The salty sea captain, (who had known both their fathers,) does reveal something important.... but the scene is so rushed, it is an anticlimax to the ferociously-anticipated buildup; as much as I do not want to say it, this blunder tarnished the film as a whole. If there is one sequence that should have been the powerful "Wow" moment of Poppy Hill, it should have been this sequence. But alas. Out of the entire canon of Studio Ghibli's young "couples," Umi and Sho are the least convincing. (Sophie and Howl this couple ain't.) On the bright side, the themes of change vs. tradition were handled very well in this film. While Whisper of the Heart took place in a universal time period, Poppy Hill is fixed at a specific place, namely 1964, the pivotal year Japan was accepted into the "modern" world, where it was chosen to host the Summer Olympics; the country was forced to set aside many of its traditions to embrace a highly-Westernized culture of television, fast food, and pop songs like Sukiyaki; (the Sukiyaki song actually plays in the background twice in the film, as an audible reminder of shattered traditions and/or new hopes.) The theme of change vs tradition is never pushed into viewers' faces and is symbolically shown through the high school clubhouse. The clubhouse is the central plot device for a decent portion of the film; whether to keep the grand old building or tear it down is matched perfectly with the larger society's internal struggle to accept the changes, for better or worse. This, in turn, harmonized well with Umi's internal struggle to let go of the past by accepting her father's death or to continue persevering hope by raising the signal flags.