millions of animation fans, Studio Ghibli is like Disney without the weird cryogenic
baggage. Year after year, Hayao Miyazaki and his team of animators have
produced absolute classics that transcend genre. He has now apparently,
by-and-large, for the most part, more-or-less retired, but Mami Sunada
documented the master at work on his final masterwork, The Wind Rises. Sunada quietly observes the Studio Ghibli comings
and goings, but still captures plenty of drama in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s DOC NYC.
Ghibli might only continue as a licensing company, but it ended its original
productions on artistic high notes. Both Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya are extraordinarily accomplished
capstones to their legendary careers. While Miyazaki’s farewell film was a
monster hit at the Japanese box-office, Takahata’s was not. They were also
supposed to be released simultaneously, but even at the start of Kingdom, everyone realizes that is
highly unlikely to happen.
there is plenty of pencil-sharpening and studious sketching going on in Kingdom, real conflict emerges between
the venerable Miyazaki and the largely unseen Takahata, who gave Miya-san his
start in the business decades ago at the Tohei studio. They share an awful lot
of history together, but their working methods could not be further apart.
as Sunada illustrates in detail, Miyazaki is able to put inspiration on a
timetable, which you have to respect, because he made Spirited Away. In contrast, it happens when it happens for Takahata,
which you have to respect, because he made Grave
of the Fireflies—unless you happen to be Miyazaki. Even though Sunada
observes events almost entirely from Miyazaki’s perspective, it is clear their
relationship is very complicated. While the film consistently shows how
comfortable Miyazaki is in his role as part studio task-master and part twinkly-eyed
ambassador of goodwill, whenever Takahata’s delays are mentioned, he sounds
like Seinfeld cursing “Newman.” Yet, with his next breath, he is likely to
praise his former mentor’s past achievements.
strange dynamic truly elevates Kingdom above
yet another dry process doc, like Farocki’s Sauerbruch Hutton Architects. It also helps that director-editor-cinematographer Sunada
is a legit filmmaker with an eye for the telling moment rather than an overawed
fan cranking out a DVD extra. As when she chronicled her father’s final days in
Death of a Japanese Salesman, she is
quite sensitively attuned to the human drama that accompanies any sort of
are very few animated clips seen throughout Kingdom,
which speaks highly of Sunada’s confidence in her subjects. It is justified.
Miyazaki is a thoroughly engaging presence, as are longtime producer Ghibli
producer-peacemaker Toshio Suzuki and Evangelion
animator Hideaki Anno, who gave voice to The Wind Rises’ idealistic protagonist. Sunada documents some true
cinema history, ultimately marking the end of an era. A fitting coda to a great
career, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
is recommended for all serious students of animation when it screens this
Sunday morning (11/16) at the SVA Theatre, as part of DOC NYC 2014.
Labels: Animated films, DOC NYC '14, Documentary, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Japanese Cinema, Mami Sunada, Studio Ghibli