The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (film review)


The name Hayao Miyazaki has sparked praise from audiences around the world. From his directorial debut in Lupin the Third’s Castle of Cagliostro to his swan song, The Wind Rises, Miyazaki, along with Studio Ghibli, have set records in Japanese box offices and even went on to win a prestigious Academy Award with Spirited Away. Yet despite these accolades, few know the inner workings of Studio Ghibli himself. The man who claimed that he “had no choice but to get married” seemed unsure of all his accomplishments and the future. Filmmaker Mami Sunada (Death of a Japanese Salesman) explores the man behind the movie at the renowned studio in The Kingdom of Dream of Madness.

Hayao Miyazaki and Hideaki Anno (© 2013 dwango)


A note hung next to his desk: “Hello, please allow me to observe you working.” 



Granted unprecedented access to the studio’s inner working, Sunada spent about a year filming the animators and an enigmatic portrait of a man whose decorated accomplishments revealed very little about his personality. Those looking for a celebrated look at the studio’s history will find something else much more unexpected, an intimate encounter with the man himself.

Hayao Miyazaki working on THE WIND RISES (© 2013 dwango)

Bits of the film focus on his long-time friend and producer of all his films at Ghibli, Toshio Suzuki. The man, along with the elusive Isao Takahata, helped Miyazaki create Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, from its original manga publication into a full-fledged animated feature. But as we see is that he is by far the hardest working man in the company, having to attend merchandise meetings, speaking with the press, and even being with Miyazaki’s son, Goro, who share a rocky relationship with his father. On the other hand, Takahata remains a shadowy figure, silently tolling away at his own film, Tales of Princess Kaguya. The very mention of his name stirs up a round of frustration in the room. Even Suzuki and Miyazaki don’t mince their words when it comes to Takahata, respecting him while equally questioning his resolve. Even Hideaki Anno, formerly one of Miyazaki’s protégés and director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, comes up as he provides the voice for Jiro, the main character.

Hayao Miyazaki working on THE WIND RISES (© 2013 dwango)_2

To understand much of the nuances of Studio Ghibli requires a little understanding into the work ethics of Japanese companies and etiquette. Things like morning exercises, and how he explains to his animators about how bowing manners has changed over the year, everyone sits and listens quietly to Miyazaki’s nuggets of wisdom. Yet, not everyone who has come through the Studio can keep up with his abnormally high expectations. “The more talented you are, the more he demands.” said one of his animators. “This may sound ungrateful, but if you want to protect yourself, you may want to stay away.”


For all his wild imaginations and captivating character, Miyazaki is surprisingly realistic about his work and situation. From the beginning at Ghibli, it was never about the money. “Our foremost objective here is making good films,” spoke a stern Miyazaki during a meeting about the studio. He explains to at his colleagues that the company is nothing more than a means to generate money, and later laughing with them he says, “If Ghibli ceases to appeal to you, then just quit. Because I’ll do the same.” Well into production of what would be his final movie, Sunada asks Miyazaki about the studio’s uncertain future. With retirement looming once The Wind Rises wraps up production, Miyazaki’s frank and uneasy prediction of what comes after provides a somber glimpse at its fleeting legacy.

It’s easy to say that without Miyazaki, Japanese animation would not be where it is today. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness offers a rare melancholy, even troubling observation into Studio Ghibli’s legacy that any animation fan should watch. Miyazaki may be done now, but The Kingdom will live on to tell future generations.

Rating: 5/5 Atoms

NR 5 Atoms - A

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