It is incredibly fitting that Studio Ghibli would, upon completing The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, be featured in a documentary focusing on the final years of directors’ Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki as they wrap up production on their final two films. At least, that’s what the press material and trailer would like to have you believe, but the truth is that The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is more of a single man’s portrait as he complete’s his life’s journey, along with the people that surrounded him and pushed him along the way.
The Film ✮✮✮✮
Directed by Mami Sunada, the documentary is unexpectedly focused on Hayao Miyazaki during the last two years of production for The Wind Rises. From the very first sequence, we follow Miyazaki through a lobby, up a staircase and through the building that makes up Studio Ghibli headquarters, and rarely do we depart from this man whom we’ve all come to admire so greatly, including Ms. Sunada herself. Through a series of offhand conversations, visits, breaks, and drawing sessions, Ms. Sunada doesn’t paint a portrait of Hayao Miyazaki, so much as allow for him to unfold before us on the screen.
With the relaxed pacing that is expected with most Japanese films, Ms. Sunada selectively sheds light on the delicate tapestry that makes up Studio Ghibli and its inner staff. We meet Hayao Miyazaki’s most trusted assistant Sankichi whom, it becomes sub-textually evident, has informed many of Miyazaki’s leading female characters. Subtle intricacies are illuminated involving the positions of director, and producer, and the effort that goes into keeping such a prolific studio with similarly prolific directors afloat.
We also learn that without Isao Takahata (whom was working on The Tale of the Princess Kaguya at the time the documentary was being filmed), Studio Ghibli would not exist, but more importantly, how Toshio Suzuki has played a most vital part in keeping the studio together. While most people attribute the success of Studio Ghibli to Hayao Miyazaki for the amount of work he has produced through the studio, it becomes evident to the audience that it was Isao Takahata whom recognized Miyazaki’s potential, and became somewhat of a mentor for him in his early years.
DVD Extras ✮✮✮
As the documentary only comes in DVD format, there is only so much extra content that can be included. However, what content they do include, proves to be just as fruitful and compelling as the documentary itself.
- Digest (Short Film): This seems to be a much more condensed version of the full documentary itself, which though unnecessary, is still lovely in its presentation and conciseness of content from the larger film.
- The Kingdom According to Ushiko: This is the bonus feature that proves to be a fantastic supplement to the documentary. Shown from the point of view of the official/un-official cat of Studio Ghibli Ushiko, we get to learn some of the things we were aching to see in the full documentary. Ushiko explains to us who she is just before going into who the other major players at Studio Ghibli are. We even get a rare and thoughtful look at the relationship between John Lasseter and Hayao Miyazaki.
- Trailers: No DVD would be complete without trailers from the distribution company which include GKIDS From up on Poppy Hill, A letter to Momo, and Welcome to the Spaceshow.
While we expected a full look at the inner workings of Studio Ghibli, what we got instead was a stunningly thoughtful look at Hayao Miyazaki, his legacy, and those who make his legacy possible. Though it would have been wonderful to learn more about Takahata and his process on The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, or more on Suzuki’s part as producer, the film is still quite complete, particularly as it allows for us to see snippets of who Hayao Miyazaki truly is.
To celebrate the release of the film, we are doing a giveaway of one copy of the DVD. Entering is easy. All you have to do is 1) comment on this post telling us what is your favorite Miyazaki or Takahata movie and 2) submit your entry using the contest widget below.
US and Canadian residents only. Winner must be able to provide a valid mailing address within 24 hours of being notified of winning the prize. If not, another winner will be selected. Contest ends 11:59PM PST on January 27. 2015.