By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli have, under their belt, some of Japan's biggest global anime movie successes, including "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," which won an Academy Award in 2003.
Far less known, until now, was Miyazaki's son Goro, who worked as a landscaper for years so as not to compete with his famous father, but later designed the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo and debuted as a director in 2006 with "Tales from Earthsea."
Now, for the first time, the pair has teamed up on a film, with Hayao, 72, as co-writer and 46-year-old Goro as director, overcoming a contentious relationship stretching back years.
"From Up on Poppy Hill," opening in U.S. movie theaters on Friday, is set in Japan in 1963 and focuses on a high school romance threatened by a secret.
Goro Miyazaki talked to Reuters recently, via a translator, about working with his father, a man he was once estranged from.
Q: Umi, the female protagonist in "Poppy Hill," has been raising flags for a decade for her deceased father. While yours is very much alive and well, did Umi's longing for her dad stir up anything for you when it comes to your own famous father?
A: The common thread between myself and the character is that the dad was always out working and was never really around. I'd be lying to you if I didn't say that there were times when I thought that maybe my dad should have died a little earlier, just as the character did. I feel like I can really empathize with a child's longing for an absent father.
Q: Now that you're working together, how closely was your father involved in the making of "Poppy Hill?"
A: He said, "I will take care of the planning and the screenplay and everything else is your responsibility." That was the agreement on the roles. But once we began work, he would come around, wander into the room and instead of talking to me directly, he would start looking at the artwork on the walls and mutter suggestions on how to do things a little bit this way, a little bit that way. He never came and talked to me directly.
Q: Did you have to accept his suggestions?
A: More often than not, his advice really hit the mark. So begrudgingly, I often had to take it.
Q: You seem like reluctant working partners. How long does this date back to?
A: Shortly after I started making my first film, I had a huge fight with my father. For a long time we didn't talk. He was opposed to the idea of me directing a film. He felt that it would be ridiculous for somebody with no experience to, all of a sudden, go into directing. He would tell me about how much he had to struggle in his days to get to that place where he could have the opportunity.
Q: What helped you reconcile?
A: Having my (now four-year old) son - his grandson - allowed us to start talking again.
Q: Has your last name been a help or hindrance in your career?
A: Both. The opportunity I received to make this film obviously had something to do with the family name. But once you make the film and it goes out into the world, that name becomes a heavy burden.
Q: Because you're judged by the standards set by your father's work?
A: I think that is true. But it all comes down to how I deal with it. Until recently, I was very jaded about that whole thing, but now (I've turned the corner) and the reason for that actually ties in to my next project, which unfortunately I can't disclose at the moment.
Q: How similar are you and your father?
A: We're both short-tempered and also a little bit dark when it comes down to it, way down deep.
Q: How are you not alike?
A: This may be partly due to the different worlds that we were born into and the different generations, but Hayao Miyazaki is an idealist. He thinks in terms of how people should be, how the world should be.
Q: Where does that stem from?
A: That comes from the fact that he grew up in this post-war period where things were changing and people had this strong ideal about how society should behave. Those of us who were born during a time when that society was much more structured already, we can't share that same sentiment.
Q: This post-war period is exactly the time period "Poppy Hill" is set in. Why do you think he wrote it for you to direct?
A: It was a time that most Japanese look fondly upon as the one time things were just right. It's after the war and the ravages. It's that point in history where Japan was able to enjoy a brief moment of peace.
(Editing by Elaine Lies and Bernadette Baum)