By Meghan Ellis.
“Films sure are organic”, quips Hayao Miyazaki, legendary anime director and 72-year-old man in a bear apron. It’s this quote, and the meaning behind it, that explains just why The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness works so well. An all-access documentary following the staff of Studio Ghibli during the production of The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, it’s a story about who made the films, not how they were made. Following just about everyone from Miyazaki himself, to the local Yakult saleslady, to the ever-present atelier cat, this thoughtful feature explores the great collaborative effort that produces films of Studio Ghibli’s calibre.
But does it paint an accurate picture of the creative process behind the likes of Academy Award winning Spirited Away, or Grave of the Fireflies?
In a word: no.
But watching it, I found I didn’t care. From the beginning, director Mami Sunada delivers a sensitive, measured tribute to the studio’s own cinematography, with her gentle narration and frequent shots of the atelier’s garden pure Ghibli in their execution. What it does show – and actually shows very well – is how the different teams work together to create, market, and make a success of the films. Sunada’s clever juxtaposing of animators and admin staff explores the gentle relationship between the two departments: often, you’ll see the animators, Miyazaki included, playing along to radio calisthenics while the admin staff discuss merchandise sales figures, revenue and promotional activities for The Wind Rises. There’s something almost childlike about the animation staff, who are shown painting clouds, drawing planes and getting Japanese etiquette lessons from a joking Miyazaki, while next door there’s a fierce discussion on whether or not Marketing should create more products catering to adults.
However, if you are familiar with the behind-the-scenes anime industry, you won’t be fooled. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is guilty of glossing over the inevitable late nights, overnights, and whip-cracking that must surely occur on projects of this scale; and with the level of access Sunada was granted to the creation process, it must be a deliberate editing decision not to include it. Set against gradually darkening skies (filmed in springtime, so it’s late-ish), the senior staff show hints of a demanding work ethic, expecting the typical Japanese levels of commitment and quality from the younger staff as they in turn had to prove in their younger days.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is out on UK DVD from Studio Canal.