On this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s the film that shows all of the ins and outs of Studio Ghibli. It’s the documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a 2013 documentary about Studio Ghibli. The film focuses on key Ghibli staff as they go about making the films The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
It was apparent from the documentary that producer Toshio Suzuki is the glue that holds Studio Ghibli together. Staff joke that he would make an excellent detective because people are always bringing him “cases” to solve.
Suzuki is tasked with making decisions ranging from what merchandise to sell, to which projects should make it to the big screen, to how to motivate director Isao Takahata to finally finish his film.
His most vital and most exasperating job is keeping the talented, temperamental, directors on task. During the time the documentary was filmed, Hayao Miyazaki was working on The Wind Rises, Isao Takahata was working on The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and Goro Miyazaki was uncertain if he should do another project as he was not sure he even wanted to be an animation director. They gave Suzuki a lot to juggle.
Toshio Suzuki deals with each situation like that friend you always turn to for advice, then drives you crazy by their simple answer that of course makes perfect sense when you re-evaluate your problem. Suzuki is calm, kind, but extremely logical and direct. He doesn’t throw any punches. You either do this, or you do that, so make your choice. After watching the documentary, you cannot imagine how Studio Ghibli would have survived without his guidance.
The Dreams and Madness
Hayao Miyazaki is featured prominently in the documentary. I learned a lot about him by reading the book Starting Point, so I wasn’t caught off guard this time around by his depressing, fatalistic views.
When you imagine someone who can make a film like My Neighbor Totoro, you imagine someone who is joyful, positive, always smiling, and that is Hayao Miyazaki sometimes.
There are also times when he makes comments about all dreams being cursed, that the day of creative freedom is ending, that making films only brings suffering and is futile, and that the world is going to end.
At one point he considers that he might have bi-polar disorder, but I’m not sure if that is the case or if his fatalism is just a byproduct of someone who works to exhaustion and is constantly burnt out. Making a good animated film takes a lot of work. Countless hours, over a hundred-thousand drawings, never ending meetings, and as many failures as triumphs. With all of that stress, it is hard to imagine not wanting to give up or quit every now and then. All of those feelings are then exasperated by Miyazaki’s desire for perfection.
His staff admit that he is difficult to work for. The more talented you are the more he demands of you. One staff talks about people coming to work at Studio Ghibli because they admire Miyazaki and her advice is that if that is the case they should not spend too much time with Miyazaki because their opinion will likely change.
The documentary follows Miyazaki through the making of The Wind Rises, up to the point when he announces his retirement from filmmaking. If you watch the special features, it isn’t much of a retirement. He still spends time every day at the studio.
Along with the prominent staff of Studio Ghibli, Ushiko, resident studio cat, is given a decent amount of screen time. I’m convinced she partially runs Studio Ghibli.
Being a lover of cats, I was delighted every time Ushiko made an appearance. You can only imagine my further delight when I clicked on the DVD’s special features and found that the documentarian gave Ushiko her own mini-documentary. The mini-documentary is told from Ushiko’s perspective about her life living at Studio Ghibli. It’s clever, adorable, and absolutely worth the watch. I wouldn’t have minded if the entire documentary was told from Ushiko’s perspective.
Things Fall Apart
While getting introspective on Studio Ghibli’s rooftop, Hayao Miyazaki stated Studio Ghibli was falling apart and would most likely end. It was said bluntly as though the death of the studio would not be a great lose. The statement had the connotation that animation and creativity as a whole was at an end. Being a fatalist, he knew that all things come to an end. A positive, hopeful person would see however that when things fall apart, new, wonderful things are often born, especially when it comes to art.
It has been no secret that in the past years, Studio Ghibli has faltered financially. Despite the studio’s uncertain future, it recently teamed up with Wild Bunch studio to create the film, The Red Turtle. Studio Ghibli staff member, Yoshiaki Nishimura, who is featured in the documentary, along with the director of Arrietty and When Marnie was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, have started a new production company named, Studio Ponoc. Their new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower is scheduled to premiere in 2017.
And of course, Hayao Miyazaki announced that he will come out of retirement to make one more film.
Miyazaki may think that films are futile, but it’s evident that Studio Ghibli continues to inspire and lights the imaginative fire in others to create magic. Even if the studio is never again what it once was, it’s legacy will live on in the creations of chaos birthed by those caught in Studio Ghibli’s enduring influence.