Jun 192014


The Kingdom of Madness and Dreams that the title of the film refers to is the Japanese animation studio known as Studio Ghibli (スタジオジブリ). The home of legendary animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata is a place where magic is made. Take a look into the world of wonder in The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

Mami Sunada (Death of a Japanese Salesman) is granted incredible access to Miyazaki and his team as they are busy creating his last film, The Wind Rises. For anyone who is a fan of Miyazaki, Ghibli films or hand drawn animation, this film is an absolute must-see. Miyazaki draws and paints the storyboards for his film by hand – each and every frame is imagined and transferred to a storyboard where it is timed, given dialogue and camera angles and directions are written in. When he is happy he passes them to his team of animators who put in massive hours to bring his imagination to life. He is not an easy taskmaster and his team must see into his soul through what puts on paper. It is absolutely amazing to watch this process from beginning to end and I feel as though Sunada has given us a window into a world we shouldn’t see – it is like seeing how the magic trick is performed.

I was surprised at the level of access Sunada was given and with how candid Miyazaki was with her. While Isao Takahata gets some screen time, he is mostly someone talked about in this film (in a very honest and quite un-Japanese fashion) and not someone who features predominately. This film could serve as a Miyazaki biopic of sorts as there as certainly been nothing like it in terms of laying out both his creative process and his personal beliefs. A creature of habit, he keeps a rigid schedule which does not vary. He schedules in time to clean the local river regularly and his “no nukes” sign is proudly displayed in the office. Miyazaki is a man of principles and morals, which is something we can see in his daily life as well as his films.

As well as the creation of The Wind Rises, the film gives us an introduction to life working at Studio Ghibli and some of the other influential staff who work there. My favourite resident was the gorgeous cat who prowls the halls at her leisure and has the entire security staff at her service. Producer Toshio Suzuki was fascinating to get to know and I believe he is the seriously underrated cog in the Ghibli wheel. Having produced for the company for over two decades, it is Suzuki who *tries* to make sure timelines are adhered to, advertising campaigns are organised and directors are looked after. He has fascinating insight and history to share and it is clear that without him things wouldn’t get done.

For me this film was an incredibly emotional experience. The structure of the film isn’t revolutionary but the content is mind-blowing. Watching my favourite filmmaker agonise over the lines of a plane for days on end; talk about how much his father inspired him; and speak candidly about the endings of his films was both moving and insightful. Studio Ghibli is the place where dreams are brought to life and this film is a dream come true for all who love their films. An unparalleled peek behind the curtain into The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a place where a world beyond our imagination is realised.


By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Mami Sunada
Featuring: Isao Takahata, Hideaki Anno, Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki
Runtime: 118 minutes
Country: Japan