For decades, the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki have captured my imagination and changed my life. It’s hard to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service these days without crying and remembering all those years I spent watching it with my daughter as she was growing up. But time passes, and so do torches.
I spoke with Goro about the anxiety of his father’s influence, cultural and economic conservation and demolition and much more for a new client, the prescient futurism site I09. We also showed off an exclusive clip of From Up On Poppy Hill. Roll it!
Despite its captivating visuals and textures, Miyazaki’s debut Tales From Earthsea, adapted from Ursula LeGuin’s fantasy legendarium, rubbed loyalists of both the elder Miyazaki and the beloved Le Guin the wrong way. But Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill, a post-nuclear teen soap taking place during Japan’s reconstructive ’60s, faces little comparable anxiety of influence.
For one, it’s based on Tetsurō Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi’s shojo manga Kokurikozaka kara, serialized in 1980. And while Hayao Miyazaki takes responsibility in the credits for the planning of From Up On Poppy Hill — making it the first of Studio Ghibli’s full-on Miyazaki family affairs — he co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa.
For his part, Goro Miyazaki confidently helms the splendidly rendered rest without showing off, creating a meditative snapshot in time that won’t find much company in the megacinema dominating pop tastes…
What do you think From Up On Poppy Hill communicates about friendship and love, and especially economic and cultural demolition?
Miyazaki: There are three things that I reflected on while making this film. First of all, prioritizing economic rationality does not necessarily bring people happiness. Secondly, if we do not learn the history of our existence, we will lose our sense of belonging. Third, I questioned what it means to be loyal to someone. To sum it up, the question is: How should we live?
What have you learned from your experiences with Poppy Hill and Earthsea about adapting manga and novels to animation?
Miyazaki: I see the process of adapting an original work into a film as taking a journey into the original and expressing — as an image —what I experience, feel and think during that journey. The difference between LeGuin’s novel and the film adaptation of Tales from Earthsea is that the novel is a rendition of the landscape that the original writer envisioned, and the film adaptation is the landscape that I perceived from reading the original novel.
Your growing filmography screens like that of your father’s, but it’s also distinct. How would you describe your similarities, and what you learned from him, as well as your differences?
Miyazaki: The difference between Hayao Miyazaki and me is the difference between the time periods in which we have been living, the difference between our generations. My father’s generation lived through and after the war, and basically had nothing. They forged their paths with their own hands, and created their whole world themselves. Therefore, they consistently try to be proactive.
On the other hand, by the time my generation came of age, everything was already available to us. I think this made us somewhat passive. I think this is one of the reasons why the protagonists I portray are different to those of Hayao Miyazaki.
Do you feel pressure to stand apart from the family name? Or is carrying on a creative family tradition its own reward?
Miyazaki: We are, of course, father and son, so I think that I take after him. One example is that we are both pessimistic optimists. My father’s existence is, for me, both a source of pride and great pressure. I believe that finding a path that is different than my father’s will free me from this pressure.
Most of Miyazaki and Ghibli films have brilliantly analyzed the balance between nature and technology. How concerned are you about catastrophes like climate change and nuclear power, especially in Japan?
Goro Miyazaki: Nature and technology provide great benefits to us, but on the other hand, they are also constant threats. Human beings must be humble in acknowledging the existence of these terrifying threats. The moment we forget about their formidable potential, they will bare their teeth. Art cannot explain that terror, but it can explain that sense of humility.
What’s next for you? Are you and your father working on anything together?
Miyazaki: There are no plans to work on a production with my father. Instead, I believe that my mission is to see what I can do when I have distanced myself from his influence. In terms of my next project, I am still in preparation and I cannot talk about it right now. What I will say is that I want to create something for children.
My thanks to Anna J. Takayama, who translated this interview from Japanese. This article appeared at I09