The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Directed by Mami Sunada
Follows the behind-the-scenes work of Studio Ghibli, focusing on the notable figures Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki.
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★★★★★ review by Ruksana 🍂 on Letterboxd
Around the age of 14, I had an experience that changed how I felt about film.
I was sitting on the floor of my room, staring at the large tree that obscured my window. The lights were off and I was sulking — who can remember why. But this ordinary teenage activity was mixed with real depression, something a lot more pernicious.
At that time I didn’t have many healthy outlets for my problems. The ones I did have were often self-destructive, straining my relationships with family and friends. It was a turbulent time in my life.
What happened was my father came and told me to stop moping and get off my butt, because he wanted to take me and my sister to a movie. I didn’t want to, though. I just wanted to sit there and keep feeling those big feelings and listening to sad music. I butted heads with him about it, but he’s always been just as stubborn as me. I eventually relented because I knew he wasn’t going to give up. It’s weird now to think about being so sour at someone who wants to treat you to a film. But teenage me had a lot going on.
It was nice to get out of the house. It wasn’t a wide release film so we had to drive to the nearest large city, leaving our small-town comfort zone. At that age I had just become interested in anime, after seeing Akira on TV that summer. But I didn’t know who Hayao Miyazaki was. My dad had brought us to a film called Princess Mononoke.
Something changed for me when I watched that film. Between the vibrant animation, the well-wrought themes of empathy and environmentalism, and the soaring score by Joe Hisashi, my feelings and struggles with depression were somehow transformed, given shape and context. Up until then I had loved film as escapism and entertainment; after Mononoke, I understood what it meant when something was meaningful. When something was art.
I watched The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness from many different perspectives. The adult me enjoyed Mami Sunada's bright and subdued directorial style. It meshed well with the visually rich settings of the Ghibli studio and the surrounding areas. A much younger me enjoyed the color, the swelling soundtrack, and the recurring imagery of beautiful trees and skies.
But it was the teenage me who felt a quiet, melancholy humility as he watched Hayao Miyazaki in his element, struggling against time, fiscal realities and his own muses in his quest to create something beautiful and lasting. I realized that Miyazaki the man is of a piece with his films: here is a person who comes from these wonderful worlds, and dares to share them with us. Even as he sardonically acknowledges the futility of things.
So now, as I’m about to turn 30, I feel Miyazaki has come along again and subtly changed how I see myself. As a writer, and as someone who wants to live in accordance with certain ideals of aesthetic and spiritual beauty, I feel both a sadness and a clarity. With Miyazaki’s body of work to experience, why create anything at all? The things I find most beautiful in this world — well, it seems they already exist. But it also gave me an incredible charge of understanding who I am, and what I value. This was always going to be a very personal viewing experience.
A ways into the film, Miyazaki receives a letter from a man he encountered briefly during the war. The man, also a child then, shares a memory of the kindness Miyazaki’s father showed him. The letter gives Miyazaki a lot of pause. He has to reconcile this version of his father with the more taciturn man that he remembers. But as he writes his reply and expresses his gratitude to the man for helping him see his father in a new light, his creativity is revitalized. He forges ahead on the stalled production of The Wind Rises, a film deeply influenced by his father. I was really moved by this, especially as I recalled my own father, our strained relationship, and how he nevertheless imparted to me his love of stories.
Miyazaki’s films bring beauty and joy into a brutal world. Thanks to Mami Sunada and The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I’ve gained a clearer understanding of what motivates that process in him. And in subtler, far-reaching ways, I’ve also learned something priceless and intangible about myself.
★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film.
so much more than Ghibli porn, so much better than it needed to be.
full review to come for The A.V. Club.
★★★★ review by Matthew Buchanan on Letterboxd
This intimate look behind the veil of Japan’s Studio Ghibli reveals as much about its two star directors (each in the process of completing his final film) as it does about the studio’s approach to filmmaking. Miyazaki’s quiet, thoughtful side might be guessed at by viewing his films, but the playful cynicism (and rivalry) shown here is at odds with the earnestness he bestows upon each of his pictures. I was particularly taken by some of the smaller moments, such as the timing estimates he performs by imagining a scene play out, eyes closed and stopwatch in hand, and with his candour about the future of the studio beyond his and co-founder Takahata’s tenure.
★★★★★ review by Seth Shively on Letterboxd
I felt so much while watching this.
I don't know what makes something a good documentary. But I do know that certain things affect me, and this person of Miyazaki is such an affecting figure to me. Each word he says seems simultaneously poetic and profound. Yet, he seems completely unattached to his words. He speaks them in a voice that would make you believe that he sees them as unimportant. Just another thought; another phrase.
Honestly, it reminds me of the way Bob Dylan speaks.
Oh, yeah! And, as a side note, both Bob Dylan and Miyazaki say that happiness is not the ultimate goal of life. That this is something which has wrongfully entered into our cultural mythos. As two of my biggest inspirations, I find this incredibly interesting. This mythos is something I've, admittedly, bought into, as I was raised up within this worldview. But it's not as if I haven't struggled to accept it. I waver between depression and discontentment all the time, and trying to figure out how to reach that ideal of "the happy life" has been something that has preoccupied me for quite a while. I almost feel like it would be a heavy burden off my shoulders if I could just reject the notion altogether..
This isn't really a review. I guess I'm just putting my thoughts down.. Still, if you are a fan of Miyazaki's work, I do highly recommend this. It offers some great insight into Miyazaki's creative process and astounding work-ethic.
★★★★½ review by Bob Hovey on Letterboxd
Anyone who has seen a Miyazaki film would probably not be surprised to learn that he and his crew take a break each day to go up on the roof to watch the clouds roll by.
Mami Sunada's film about Hayao Miyazaki is full of scenes like this, as well as some very interesting insights from Miyazaki ... most of which are not from formal interviews, but comments he makes as he's working or otherwise attending to his day-to-day activities. It is this easy sense of insertion into his (and Ghibli's) routine that makes this such a highly effective documentary. As Miyazaki reveals himself, piecemeal and unscripted, we see what a complex person he is... bright and creative, sentimental and old-fashioned, pragmatic and cynical, a good-natured person who nevertheless is a taskmaster when it comes to getting work done and maintaining standards of excellence.
Miyazaki refers to himself as a "20th Century man," which is an apt description of someone whose work is traditional cel animation in an age when computer generated or computer enhanced work has become increasingly commonplace. Miyazaki speaks of his impending retirement with a depressing finality, accompanied by a strong undertone of concern regarding what will become of this type of craftsmanship in the coming years... he's convinced that Ghibli is doomed, but the atmosphere of the film seems to suggest that perhaps he underestimates the power of his legacy, passed on to the enthusiastic and optimistic young people who surround him.
Animation fans will revel in the wonderful behind-the-scenes work in progress on "The Wind Rises," but the film's appeal is not so exclusive... it is an amazing document on the creative process, describing a workflow that is simultaneously invigorating and exhausting. As one backgound painter said (without looking up, even briefly, from her work), "This company is a lot more fun than I thought it would be."
Which is not surprising when your boss is a guy who believes that looking at clouds is every bit as important as work.
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