I have just finished watching the documentary the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. It follows Hayao Miyazaki, the enigmatic co-founder of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese film studio that has created some of the most iconic animated films of the last three decades.
Its hard to describe the films of Studio Ghibli. They are both visibly stunning and range in depth, from the simple but beautifully told My Neighbour Totoro to the more thought provoking Princess Mononoke, which is about mankind’s greed and relationship with nature. Miyazaki has often been called the Japanese Walt Disney, though he does not like that phrase.
The film documents the making of the film the Wind Rises in 2012-2013. Set during WWII, it caused controversy in Japan, for being both anti-patriotic (the Japanese right) to glorifying machines of war and their makers (the Japanese left). The documentary isn’t so much about the making of the film, but about Miyazaki and his close associate Toshio Suzuki.
Miyazaki is no longer the energetic film maker of old, but an old man who is pondering the past and the future. The film he is making is set during WWII, which brings up feelings of deep shame for him (as a pacifist). He sees the scars of the past returning, with the government wishing to reverse the Japanese constitution which outlaws war as a means of settling disputes. The film is also in the backdrop of the 2008 financial crash and the tsunami and Fukushima, which also brings up Miyazaki’s loathing of nuclear power.
There are moments of deep melancholy in the film. Miyazaki declares that ‘Today all of humanities dreams are cursed’ and ‘Most of our world is rubbish’. It occurred to me that Miyazaki resembles Leo Tolstoy, who as an older man renounced his works and worked on his pacifist and political ideals. Miyazaki, similar to Tolstoy, even questions the point of making films, describing them as being merely hobbies now. He even denounces one of his films, Porco Rosso, as a ‘foolish film’.
But despite these feelings, he dutifully works from 11am to 9pm six days a week on this film, at the age of 72. He genuinely seems pleased with the finished product, as he cries at the end of one of his own films for the first time. Miyazaki’s wrestles with the idea of making one more film, but then decides to retire. He predicts that Studio Ghibli will flounder without him, and he was proved right as the company halted production in 2014.
As mentioned earlier, Toshio Suzuki plays a prominent part. Suzuki plays a Peter Taylor to Miyazaki’s Brian Clough. Suzuki is a hard working producer and is completely dedicated to Studio Ghibli, and unlike Miyazaki is not flagging or becoming pensive. The film also shows the rivalry between Miyazaki and his one time boss, Isao Takahata. Takahata is also working on a film, but is struggling to finish it. Miyazaki is both contemptuous and complimentary of his old boss, who also seems to have lost the fire to make great films.
The documentary is a great insight into some of the most creative minds in the history of modern cinema as they draw to the close of their careers.