Review: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)


If you watch a lot of the films from Studio Ghibli on DVD or blu ray, you’ll notice that there are rarely any in-depth “making of” extras on the discs.  The most you’re likely to get are some press conferences or preproduction artwork.  What most Ghibli fans want is insight into the creative process of the great Hayao Miyazaki.  This documentary provides that, and more.

It’s difficult to believe that Miyazaki would allow this bother during production of The Wind Rises, but allow it he did.  Maybe it was due to the fact that he was planning for that to be his last feature (a fact that is brought into question here), but whatever the reason, he finally allowed access to the inner workings at Ghibli.


The documentary is masterfully directed by Mami Sunada in fly-on-the-wall fashion with very little interjection from interviewers or narration.  The events of the film’s production are allowed to unfold as they will with seemingly very little agenda on the part of the documentarians.  That’s great because it really feels like this is what any of us would have experienced had we been there in person.  Along the way, the film crew documents the last breath of a dying art–that of hand-crafted animation.

I didn’t give The Wind Rises the most glowing review, but it must be stated that Miyazaki and company’s craftsmanship is without equal.  It’s fascinating to see how workaday the assembly process can be.  But even more fascinating is Miyazaki himself.  He usually comes off as harshly critical of his subordinates, and that side is on display here.  What is unusual, though, is the portrait drawn of the inner man.


Miyazaki himself states that he’s never been happy when working but that he doesn’t think that’s the point of life.  Here he demands perfection from others, yet chooses not to expect it of himself.  He mourns the state of the world, yet is frankly idealistic.  Hespends his Sundays (his only days off) cleaning a local river, yet he claims he’s manic-depressive.  If anything, he’s complicated.  How else could he forge works that are both overtly sentimental toward individuals and pessimistic about the human race as a whole?

This documentary is poetic and lyrical and everything most making-of featurettes are not.  If you’ve enjoyed even one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, you really should see this.  Very highly recommended.