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The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Director Mami Sunada was given exclusive access to Studio Ghibli for her documentary movie, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which was released in Japanese theaters in November.  The movie focuses on the studio’s three founders – directors Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, and producer Toshio Suzuki – during the production of Takahata’s Tale of Princess Kaguya and Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

Even though Miyazaki insists that his decision to announce his retirement from feature films came late, a sense of closure, of finality, always hung over these two films.  There was a special sense of alignment, of Studio Ghibli’s two old masters taking one last bow before the audience.  It’s very difficult not to see The Wind Rises as a farewell statement.  And, so, this sadness remains underneath the surface – the madness that underlies the dream.

And, yet, we also respond to Miyazaki’s retirement with a sense of disbelief.  Really?  I mean…really?  Even his oldest friends and colleagues don’t believe the master won’t return once more.  But Miyazaki stubbornly insists he is finished.  He has nothing more to say, no more fight for another battle.

The other question that haunts us: What about Paku-san?  Is Princess Kaguya his farewell statement as well?  Wasn’t he already retired?  His last film was a 60-second clip in the 2003 anthology picture, Winter Days.  His last feature film was 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas.  The man does not commit to any direction, prefers to silently keep his options open.  But time marches forward for Takahata as well.

Sunada explains the documentary’s title: “I think that having a dream entails having a bit of madness, no matter what the profession. There are times when you will go to extremes, and times when you are feared by others for that.”  It’s a fascinating insight into Studio Ghibli, whose films have often embraced the nightmare side, probed the darker, more difficult questions.  Miyazaki and Takahata were never interested in simple children’s entertainment for following the Disney paradigm.  Indeed, they have dedicated their whole lives to smashing it to pieces.  We cherish these men while they are among us.  We shall not see their likes again.

One Final Note:  Studio Ghibli is preparing English subtitles for this film.  Does this mean a Western release in theaters or on home video?  Nobody is yet saying, but we can only hope.  There will be subs on the Japanese BD/DVD release, if nothing else.  Stay tuned.



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