For a film that ends with a celebratory voiceover montage marvelling at the imaginative power of animation and all Studio Ghibli has achieved to that end, “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” chronicles a sharply misanthropic Hayao Miyazaki working on what was then planned to be his final film, “The Wind Rises”.
The documentary, clearly (and understandably) infatuated with Studio Ghibli often tries to soften the edges of what Miyazaki says, but when he sincerely states “How do we know movies are even worthwhile? If you really think about it, is this not just some grand hobby? Maybe there was a time when you could make films that mattered, but now? Most of our world is rubbish” it’s hard to make a gooey, celebratory documentary around that. A more interesting film constantly threatens to develop, such as when it’s stated “the merchandisers seem to be aiming their products at children, but the leading market now is adults, you see. Looking at these products through those eyes, I wonder if they meet our customer’s demand”.
The film would have been a lot stronger if it doubled down on the misanthropy. As is, Miyazaki’s very real views that colour his work in obvious ways seem almost like the lowpoint of a dramatic arc “ending” in the success of the film he produced. For a man that’s created so much, that seems a reductive way to examine him to me. Still, it’s more than competently shot and captures a lot of fascinating material about Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki, and Isao Takahata, always lapping at the edges of the film.
What’s chiefly not in the film, like Takahata, is often a lot more interesting than what is; a brief interlude with Miyazaki’s son (notably never seen with his father; the two never even mention each other) tremendously emotionally powerful and uncomfortable. The film gains strength when it starts to interview other workers who speak candidly about Miyazaki’s destructive nature, but the ending is too pat to really pull the follow-through on any of that.
“Filmmaking only brings suffering” indeed. The tinkling piano score and constant cuts to brightly-lit nature filmed placidly dull down the sharper edges of greatness in this film trying to poke out. Three exercise routines, and a declaration of retirement.