Studio Ghibli is company that means quite a bit to many individuals. With a near spotless filmography, the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have inspired many artists and filmmakers in sheer craft, creativity, and storytelling. Personally, I haven’t a met a person that only likes one or two Ghibli films—it’s usually a handful, if not the entire library.
On November 14, 2014, Mami Sunada’s documentary entitled “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” was available to the U.S.. Along with the studio’s origin, the film also chronicles a couple important moments for Studio Ghibli: the production of Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” and Takahata’s “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” the final directorial films by the studio’s founders.
By now, both films have already been released and audiences should be able to enjoy them. Also around last fall was when the studio announced they had no future productions lined up after the completion of “When Marnie was There.”
The hardcore fans of Ghibli’s library might not learn anything new outside this documentary. In fact, Sunada’s film is actually great for newcomers or casual viewers who enjoy the output by Ghibli and Miyazaki, but for whatever reason don’t have the access to everything outside the actual films themselves. As much as I’d like to own all the films plus merchandising, Ghibli’s stuff isn’t cheap.
There are plenty of interesting tidbits from “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness” to inform audiences about the studio and its creators. Therefore, I have listed ten facts that you might not have known outside the films of Ghibli. Despite this actual list, I urge everyone to check out the documentary if any of this sounds interesting.
This isn’t a list of their best films, as the documentary barely dives into each production outside “The Wind Rises.” For lists about the actual films, they could be found here (for Studio Ghibli) and here (for Miyazaki).
1. The Studio from Storybooks
Located in Koganei, Tokyo, Studio Ghibli seems like the dream place to work for any type of creative individual. Outside, the modern architecture is completely shrouded in some areas by the gorgeous, local flora. Even in winter, it’s still picturesque.
Inside, the warm, wood interior feels welcoming while keeping with the modern, Japanese interior design. Also inside are several different sites and areas to provide for their creative and personal needs. Many animators also bring their children to work, since Ghibli has a nursery. The site even has an impromptu mascot in the form of a white cat named Ushiko. It moves freely within the complex, but makes space for Miyazaki.
Even down to the spiral staircase, the studio itself is a neat space for such tedious work, especially for animators. While fun and decorative offices are nothing new, the coziness and warmth is almost too perfect to be true as a workplace. Almost.
2. The Staff
With around 400 people on staff, Ghibli employs many people for different jobs—“a mix between the 20th and 21st century,” as Miyazaki would say. At the time of the documentary, 100 individuals were working on “The Wind Rises.” Some painstakingly draw frame after frame by hand, while others will digitally add color once the drawings get scanned.
It’s an interesting look at how people are still doing hand-drawn animation in today’s world, down to the workstations and the tools offered. Little things like recycling pencils or personalized motivational posters add to the charm.
As awesome as the workspace is made, working there isn’t all fun and games. When interviewing the animators, many state that it’s incredibly hard work, that even the most talented animators have quit. True success at Ghibli and working with Miyazaki, according to one woman, comes at some sort of personal sacrifice, meaning the longer one works at Ghibli, the more one will eventually lose.
Still, many don’t really seem to mind, since Ghibli’s work philosophy is based on creative passion. They encourage slackers to leave. If that doesn’t work, then the timed group calisthenics might help.
3. “The Wind Rises”
At the time of filming, Ghibli and Miyazaki were developing—from start to finish—his last directorial feature, “The Wind Rises.”
Today, audiences can see the film and develop their own opinions regarding his final feature, but critics have made connections between the film’s protagonist and Miyazaki himself. It’s interesting then to find out that Miyazaki actually based this film and the character Jiro after his own father, who’s profession was selling aircraft parts during the war. As a result, Miyazaki has been obsessed with planes for a long time. During the production, his work space is shown with model airplanes and memorabilia.
Even for his last film, Miyazaki himself hit some roadblocks. It took him 2 years to finish the storyboard. Despite completing a draft, he was unsure of the ending. When it came down to sketching the models, Miyazaki couldn’t draw the zero plane. There’s even a moment when he and his producer is met with possible censorship.
Still, it would appear—after all is said and done—the whole experience was worth it. Several moments late into the production would show Miyazaki emotionally responding—in a good way—to the progress being made on the film. There’s a great moment in which it’s just a prolonged, static shot of Miyazaki and famed composer Joe Hisaishi watching a playback. Hisasihi is transfixed at the screen, while Miyazaki slowly sheds a tear throughout. It’s moments like this that reassures the staff and doubters.
4. Miyazaki is a Respected and Feared Boss
At 72 (during the time of filming), Miyazaki is well aware of his role as a leader after decades of making films at Ghibli. When it comes to creative decisions, Miyazaki has the most—if not all the power when making decisions. He’s far from a shitty boss. In fact—he’s kind of ideal.
His staff demonstrates much respect, sometimes out of reverence, while sometimes out of fear. During an impromptu meeting regarding character bowing, Miyazaki interrupts and literally takes over without anyone’s objection, while the animators continue along unfazed.
In interviews, some animators have stated that they will directly converse with the director whenever they have a specific question, and usually he’ll be willing to push them toward the solution. However, that has a limit. One animator stated that when he asked Miyazaki on a specific question regarding the plane, the director’s response was annoyed and dismissive. Rather than pushing on, the animator backed down out of fear.
The scene that best demonstrates this element is when he’s talking to his staff about casting the lead voice actor for the protagonist. He not only shuts down the list of who appears to be the casting director, but when she suggests a wild alternative in the form of non-actor/director Hideaki Anno, he comically keeps the entire table on edge as he entertains the idea, before ultimately going along with it. Just like that, he’s solved the issue that’s been bothering him for some time.
5. As a Filmmaker, Miyazaki Takes His Time
Miyazaki does not write scripts or screenplays. Instead, he opts for a more visual method in the form of a lengthy storyboard. He’s not interested in cranking out complete, concrete stories for the sake of meeting deadlines—that comes after. Miyazaki believes that the will of the characters should dictate the story, and not the mechanical structure of “efficient” storytelling. Following that, it’s not hard to see why he rewrote the ending for “The Wind Rises.”
For a rough draft of “The Wind Rises,” it took him two years to complete. Even as he was working on story boards, many were already a year into production on his last film. The process has always baffled unsuspecting animators, at times confusing some of the workers on how their scenes fit into the larger story.
But watching Miyazaki sitting there and drawing the story board is really hypnotic process, even down to his use of an analog stopwatch for timing. Everyone trusts his mind and they’re there because of Miyazaki, so they do give him the benefit of the doubt and the time he needs.
This is also applicable to Takahata, who’s mentioned quite frequently throughout the film as someone who is unable to meet deadlines, or shows very little interest in making deadlines.