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May 28, 2017

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Son of renowned Japanese animator is drawn to his father's work

LOS ANGELES--On his first trip to Los Angeles in February, Japanese director Goro Miyazaki found a native custom perplexing.

"I've never been to any other place in the world where you see so few pedestrians," Miyazaki said, speaking through a translator in a rare interview at his Beverly Hills hotel. "Normally I go for a walk every morning, but I was told that if I'm just walking around, people will see me as somebody strange."

Miyazaki is accustomed to moving to a different tempo. He's the son of Hayao Miyazaki, the so-called Walt Disney of Japan, whose fantastical, hand-drawn animated films such as "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle," "Ponyo" and "Princess Mononoke" have made him his country's most successful filmmaker and a defiantly old-school hero in a global boom era for computer animation.

Soft-spoken and stoic, Goro represents the new guard at Hayao's 28-year-old Tokyo-based company, Studio Ghibli. Now on his second feature film, the younger Miyazaki has assumed his responsibility with reservation, both because of complex filial feelings and his fears about the future of a fading art form.

"(Goro's) is the fate of one who has a legendary father," said longtime Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, through a translator. "For Goro, Hayao Miyazaki is not a father but rather a tall wall."

Studio Ghibli's latest entry, "From Up on Poppy Hill," teams father and son. The period drama co-written by Hayao, 72, and Keiko Niwa and directed by Goro, 46, opens in Los Angeles on March 22. Based on a 1980 comic book by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama, "From Up on Poppy Hill" is set in the seaside city of Yokohama in 1963, when high school students band together to save an old building from demolition.

With naturalistic animation of ocean vistas, burgeoning cityscapes and mouth-watering home-cooked meals, the movie places two romances at its center _ one between a pair of teen characters and another between the movie's Japanese audience and its history.

"There's a strong sense of nostalgia for this period of time in Japan," the younger Miyazaki said. "You have the terrible period of World War II, and that was followed by chaos. The period we're talking about here is right before economic growth, and that was the brief moment in Japan when people were able to enjoy a relative time of peace and calmness."

The nostalgia on screen belongs not to Goro's generation but to his father's "I believe it was a gift from father to son," Suzuki said of the script. Goro believes it was an opportunity for his father to experiment with a period film in advance of his next feature, "The Wind Rises," about a designer of World War II fighter planes and due to open in Japan this year (Miyazaki's family made wing tips during the war).

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