Exploring The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Last week I ventured from my Hobbit hole to go see a documentary about one of my favorite storytellers, Hayao Miyazaki. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness provides interesting insight into the life of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Specifically it follows the creation of his latest (and allegedly last?) film The Wind Rises.

The thing that struck me most about the film was Miyazaki himself and that he didn’t quite line-up with my expectations, though in a refreshing way, at least for me. I think a lot of people have a perception of Miyazaki as a monk-like figure. I know that I did, and I’ve seen a lot of people speak about him in similar sorts of terms. After all, he is a pacifist and an environmentalist.

So watching him smoke a copious amount of cigarettes along with his producer, Toshio Suzuki, was slightly jarring at first. But as I watched him speaking to the film crew, it started to make more and more sense. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I think a lot of artists and creative people are fundamentally unhappy with the world. After all, if you were content, why would you feel the need to make anything? Miyazaki came across to me as bitter, in many ways, yet driven to create his art. At one point he says that young people put too much emphasis on being happy and that’s not really what life is about. To prove this point, he claims that film making, his entire life’s work, is miserable.

The other thing I found very interesting was the insight into Studio Ghibli itself. For one thing, I left the film with the distinct impression that Suzuki is the unsung hero of that company. While he isn’t involved so much in the creative aspects of the company, he is the producer, and he is the one that keeps everything running.

Miyazaki’s relationship with Ghibli’s other founder, Isao Takahata, was also interesting. The two used to work together. In fact, Takahata is often cited as a mentor to both Miyazaki and Suzuki. However, Miyazaki’s attitude towards him alternates between respectful and dismissive. The two directors work in separate studios and don’t seem to interact or collaborate at all on their works.

The differences between Miyazaki and Takahata’s approach is a sort of sub-theme for the film. Miyazaki works continuously, is organized, and sticks to a specific schedule. Takahata, who doesn’t appear much in the film, is described as rather slovenly. There is also a lot of talk throughout the film about his last film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which was in production during the documentary’s filming. It was supposed to release at the same time as The Wind Rises but was delayed several months. Miyazaki and Suzuki speculate that Takahata is taking so long because he doesn’t want to finish the film at all.

If nothing else, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness shut down a lot of the presumptions (fair or not) that I had about Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It is an interesting look at a film maker and a studio whose work I’ve loved, but that I didn’t know all too much about. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki’s work, I think this documentary is definitely worth a watch.

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