Emily and I recently watched the 2013 documentary about Studio Ghibli and its founders Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, and Isao Takahata. It was wonderful. (We actually ended up watching it twice!) The director, Mami Sunada, seemed to take inspiration from the thoughtful, detail-oriented, and quietly paced films of Studio Ghibli when directing this documentary. It’s more of a “fly on the wall” style documentary as opposed to a “talking heads” style. Sunada followed Miyazaki (or “Miya-san”) and Ghibli's producer Toshio Suzuki for a year during the production of Miyazaki's final film The Wind Rises. It also “features” Isao Takahata while he was working on his latest film Princess Kaguya. I used quotes since Takahata is obviously not interested in that much interaction with the camera. I think he only appears on film for a few minutes towards the end.
One of the reasons I liked this doc is that it gives you a real insight into the Miyazaki's thought process and outlook on storytelling, animation, work, and life. I've always thought of him as a bit of a lovable grump from reading other interviews and watching behind the scenes features, and he is, sort of, but he also has an amazing work ethic and a zest for creating art that really comes through in his films. Some highlights of getting to see Miyazaki’s typical work day are when he and the office break for calisthenics, watching him storyboard with a stopwatch (for checking the timing), and taking the other animators up to the roof to watch the sunset. You also get to see what it must be like to work at Studio Ghibli. All the animators seem to be there because they highly respect Miyazaki, and even in moments of stress they seem to be enjoying themselves. It was also interesting to see how many women work as animators at the studio, something you don’t ordinarily see at animation studios.
There is one interesting directorial choice in the documentary that I found to be very effective. There are no clips of Miyazaki’s movies that run while people are talking. The only time you see any animation is when the camera is watching some of the animators work. The only exception to this is a scene towards the end of the film, which was very emotionally effective. I don't want to give it away but it summed up why animation is such a beautiful and powerful art form, and also made me reflect on the Miyazaki’s amazing career.
So the TLDR version of this review: See this movie! See it if you’re a Ghibli fan, see it if you’re an artist or are interested in the creative process, and finally see it if you just like good movies!
FYI, we rented it via our PS3 on the PSN network, but I noticed that you can also get it from Google Play, Amazon streaming, iTunes, and Netflix.