Michael Leader catches the highly-anticipated behind-the-scenes documentary The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness, which charts an integral year in the life of Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli…
At Venice last year, one of my highlights was seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, the inspiring, animated engineering epic The Wind Rises, with the festival crowd. This past week, TIFF topped Venice by offering a Ghibli double bill on its very first day of press screenings. How could I resist?
First, I played catch-up with Catherine Bray, who caught The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya at Cannes earlier this year, but the second film was easily my most-anticipated of the festival: The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness, a fly-on-the-wall documentary shot within Ghibli’s walls as both The Wind Rises and Princess Kaguya neared completion.
With unprecedented access and insight, director Mami Sunada was present as both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata put the finishing touches to their final masterworks – essentially the most invigorating, impressive mic drop in animation history – while plagued by looming deadlines, production pressures and their own existential entanglements.
The resulting film is delicate but illuminating, a gift for Studio Ghibli fans to treasure but also a rare document of one of the few studios in contemporary cinema history that have attained the profile and reputation to require such observation. From in-depth interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki to scenes charting the brainstorming, auditioning and recording of Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno’s lead voice role in The Wind Rises, The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness has much to offer. But it’s in little asides such as charming scenes following around the studio cat, which mimic Miyazaki’s own fondness for finding wonder from different perspectives, that Sunada goes beyond simple behind-the-scenes concerns and creates a documentary that stands on its own.
Frankly, double billing Princess Kaguya and The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness was an emotionally exhausting experience, not least because the documentary manages to capture the Ghibli magic that is jeopardised by the imminent retirement of both Takahata and Miyazaki. A final scene, with Miyazaki staring out of an office window and imagining a chase sequence over the local rooftops – cut to scenes from every Miyazaki film from The Castle Of Cagliostoro onwards – represents a career of making the mundane fantastical in microcosm. Keep an eye out for this one, it’s essential viewing – and not just for Ghibli die-hards.