I’d seen animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away,” but “Poppy Hill” (directed by Miyazaki’s son and spiritual/visual heir, Goro) was the first time I had seen that signature look on the big screen.
“Poppy Hill,” released in 2011 and co-written by Miyazaki, is a story of a girl who is growing up, and who misses her dad. I’m 37 and I still feel like I’m growing up. My dad died in 2009, and I still miss him. “Poppy Hill” was the first movie in a long time to nudge me and whisper, “It’s going to get better. You’re not alone. See? This Japanese guy in his 70s knows what it’s like to be you.”
Hayao Miyazaki is back, and possibly for the final time (he’s talking retirement again). His latest, “The Wind Rises,” Oscar-nominated and opening in limited release Friday, is about a boy who loves and wants to build airplanes, because airplanes are beautiful. Since he’s working in World War II Japan, the government isn’t exactly interested in beauty; it’s interested in destruction. The point of the film — pulled off without a whiff of cliche — is that love and destruction are so intertwined. To love something is to give it the opportunity to destroy you; you get the chance to soar, but there’s always the possibility of a crash.
“From Up on Poppy Hill” started, in a small way, to heal me; it started a time when rough edges were smoothed and open wounds were stitched. “The Wind Rises” doesn’t finish the job, exactly, but it shows where the journey has always been leading — through love to pain, and through pain to love.