For my eighth entry for the NZIFF, I watched the fascinating and intimate documentary about the two legendary figures in Anime, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (夢と狂気の王国 Yume to Kyouki no Oukoku). “A year inside the world of Studio Ghibli”, this is what you’re going to get in this Japanese documentary directed by Japanese filmmaker Mami Sunada about Studio Ghibli’s two founding directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. The documentary shows us the lives of the two directors over the span of a year during the production of their two films, The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ Kaze Tachinu) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 Kaguya Hime no Monogatari).
This visit to Studio Ghibli proves gratifying as it is to have the pleasure to watch the films produced there. The place even looks like a Miyazaki movie, with its natural imagery, ship-styled windows, all-knowing cat and rooftop billowing lawn. In the film, we see Miyazaki himself working on, what is sadly now known as his last film, The Wind Rises. The film takes a look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. We see Ghibli as a studio where he personally storyboards the entire film from beginning to end, and where is dedicated and talented group of artists painstakingly draw each frame by hand, is cluttered, open and conspicuously lacking any new modern technologies. Meanwhile, in the south, Ghibli's other maestro Takahata is struggling with his fifth and latest film, his first film in thirteen years, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The film explores the story of the title character from when found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, to when she grows rapidly into an exquisite young princess. Their producer and co-founder Toshio Suzuki shuttles between the two, managing their distinct styles and approaches with the same amount of obvious love and a shrewd appreciation of the challenges he faced. Relationships among these three men lie at the heart and soul of Japan's most creative and successful enterprise, and director Mami Sunada traces Ghibli's evolution accordingly. Miyazaki himself is fascinating and irresistible, impish at one moment, the next moment melancholic - notably when contemplating the meanings of his film. His insistence on traditional decorum proves no impediment to spiky candour. He is a completely captivating genius.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness does probe as deep and tells as many hard truths as it should, but Mami Sunda's look at Studio Ghibli's two legendary founders offers a fascinating and surprisingly intimate and personal glimpse into their lives as well as the studio's. There is nothing short of a giddy delight in watching the fine folks who founded Studio Ghibli living out their dreams in ways much larger than even they could ever have imagined. Sunada had the gumption to pop open Studio Ghibli's hood and explore the mechanics, and ultimately created something warmly nostalgic, uplifting and modern at the same time.
Simon says The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness receives: