Studio Ghibli is one of the most famous animation studios in the world. This Japanese animation company has been producing high quality animated films for roughly 30 years now. It was co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Yasuyoshi Takuma in 1985 after the success of Miyazaki’s second animated feature Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (although Nausicaa is still included under the Studio Ghibli banner). With the exception of 2006’s Tales From Earthsea, all of Studio Ghibli’s films have been critically acclaimed and adored all over the world. In 2012, Mami Sunada was granted access to document the work done at Studio Ghibli, which happened to be at a time when Miyazaki and Takahata were both working on films set for release in 2013 in Japan. The resulting documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, is a fascinating look into the creative process of one of the world’s greatest animation directors. I managed to catch the very last showing of the film recently at the IFC Center, and it was well worth the effort to get there as I enjoyed it immensely from start to finish.
2013’s The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness focuses on Studio Ghibli and the efforts of producer Toshio Suzuki to have two upcoming films that are slated for release in 2013 to be completed on time: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The film largely shows Miyazaki’s work on The Wind Rises due to Takahata taking his time to work on Kaguya (Suzuki mentions a few times how it seems that Takahata isn’t interested in finishing the film). As a result, we get to see Miyazaki’s creative process, including his work on the film’s storyboard (which is how he “wrote” the film’s screenplay). We’re treated to the meeting that led to the casting of Hideaki Anno as Jiro, the film’s main character. Joe Hisaishi pops up for a bit later on in the doc (which was fun for me as I’ve enjoyed the music he’s provided for all of the Miyazaki films that he’s worked on). “Tortured genius” has been one label that’s been applied to Miyazaki, and it is certainly shown in the film. Sunada’s film also takes the time to show the principles under which Studio Ghibli works (the stretch breaks were interesting). One of the most touching moments in the film is after the staff screening of The Wind Rises, where Miyazaki address the Ghibli staff and apologizes for crying (he also states that he usually doesn’t cry when watching one of his own films).
It is during the filming of the doc that Miyazaki announces his retirement, stating that he’s going to stay retired this time. The impact is felt on Studio Ghibli as its future becomes uncertain, leading to a company hiatus so that its future can be re-evaluated. Sunada’s doc captures many wonderful moments and is quite reflective. It is my hope that Ghibli continues on, but if it doesn’t there is a wonderful legacy to behold and many terrific films to look back on and revisit.