December 14, 2013 -- This Studio Ghibli anime is set in Yokohama, Japan in 1963, just before the Tokyo Olympics. This was a time of upheaval and change in Japan as it recovered from the war and focused on the future, frequently ignoring the past. This story is about people determined to honor the past while striving for a better future.
The central character in the film is Umi Matsuzaki, a young girl who is in charge of running the household while her mother is overseas. Her father died during the Korean War. She gets up early in the morning and fixes breakfast for everyone. She also does the shopping and does many other household chores.
Then she becomes interested in a boy at school, Shun Kazama, who puts out the school newspaper. He writes a poem about her and how she raises marine signal flags every day at her house atop a hill. Raising the signal flags is Umi's way of paying tribute to her late father. Since Shun's father runs a tugboat in the harbor, he often sees Umi raising the signal flags in the morning. Umi and Shun begin to spend a lot of time together and they become an item, until Shun suddenly becomes withdrawn and distant.
Umi is troubled by this, but she finally learns the reason for Shun's behavior, which has to do with the war and their family histories. That history, which is misunderstood by both of them, is the essential conflict in the story, but another conflict has to do with one of the school buildings, a clubhouse called the Latin Quarter. The school board has decided to tear down the building, but the students want to keep it.
Umi and Shun become involved in saving the old building, appealing to a powerful industrialist who supports the school, as well as the school's alumni. Umi heads of a team of students determine to clean up and refurbish the old building in an attempt to make it look like new. These conflicts have to do with the aftermath of war and the need for progress, which sometimes conflicts with the need to preserve the past.
Although the nature of these conflicts is serious, the film also has its humorous, light and romantic moments. There are no real villains in this story. All the people are basically good and they try to do the right thing. The artwork is beautiful and there are lots of beautiful colors and scenes in the film. The film also has considerable emotional power. This film rates a B.
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