The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Director Mami Sunada spends about a year filming inside the renowned Studio Ghibli, responsible for giving movie lovers around the globe masterpieces such as “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Spirited Away,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “From Up on Poppy Hill.” This is where the legendary Hayao Miyazaki creates his memorable works, along with the help of many animators, and the documentary also turns its attention on the process of making his final film, “The Wind Rises.”
“The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” is a documentary told through a poet’s perspective. It is quite an experience to sit through because it likes to take its time drawing us into the images. For instance, when Miyazaki is working on storyboards, we see what is being drawn or colored and yet we cannot help but squint just a little as to absorb the more minute details of the artwork. I was amused by this because I had seen “The Wind Rises” prior to watching this film and yet I was still inspired to look at the raw images, hopefully recognizing the scene that the images belong to. It helps that the camera lingers for a few seconds in order to give us that chance.
It offers surprising details about Miyazaki: how he works, his perspective on life, and how others view him. For example, he admits that even though he works on the storyboards himself, he does not really know what kind of film he’ll end up with. This sentiment is particularly relevant to “Spirited Away,” understandable because that film offers so many rich, bizarre, amusing, curious images and turn of events.
Particularly memorable is when the man decides to speak to the artists that there is a difference between how the Japanese bow in modern times versus the era of the Second World War. Nowadays, people bow and then return to standing up straight. Back then, people bowed but they kept their backs at an acute angle relative to the ground. Straightening it completely would have communicated rudeness. Since “The Wind Rises” takes place during World War II, the customs during that time must be reflected in the animation. He then mentions that drawing characters glancing sideways while turning around is an egregious mistake. He offers a wonderful explanation as to why.
At one point in the documentary, Miyazaki claims that “what drives animation is the will of the characters.” I thought this insight defines the studio’s work. It continues to release high quality films because it is character-driven first. We get to understand them as much as—if not better than—live actors performing a role. The magic is in the screenplay and everything else, like the quality and style of animation, seemingly happens to fall into place. On a rare occasion that they do not, we forgive easily because it is likely that there is something about the story that gets to our core.
Throughout the course of the two-hour film, it becomes clear that the studio and the people in it are like family—including a stray cat that likes to lounge about but smart enough never to bother Miyazaki while he is working. We see the camaraderie between Miyazaki and his colleagues. Miyazaki is honest about the work and how much effort is put into it. The latter is also given a chance to tell the truth. A handful of people claim—some joke—that the man is tough and has high expectations. Some people happen to fail living up to them. And yet despite these truths, the place still comes across as an awesome place to work, play, and create.