Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Kiki's Delivery Service

For those just coming to the party, I've got a bit of down time this August, and so I'm spending it by watching every film directed by world renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki. Next on the list is Miyazaki's adaptation of Eiko Kadono's classic Japanese children's novel....

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For their English language dub (their first one!), Disney rounded up Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds and, in his final film role, Phil Hartman.

It was almost 10 years ago. I was just a young pup, still going to Augustana University College. Most of my friends -- and fellow geeks -- had banded together to found Augustana's anime club. (A quick look at Augustana's online club registry shows that, 10 years later, it's still going strong.) This was also around the same time that I had discovered the Internet, and started reading those movie gossip websites like Ain't It Cool News, and the granddaddy of them all, which sadly doesn't exist anymore, Corona's Coming Attractions. And at this time, those websites were buzzing with the news that Disney had just signed a deal with Studio Ghibli to bring Ghibli's films to North America. The first one to be released under this deal: Kiki's Delivery Service, which got a straight-to-VHS release in the fall of 1998. When the anime club held their first anime festival in the spring of 1999, a screening of Kiki's Delivery Service was one of the main events. And that's where I saw my first Hayao Miyazaki film from beginning to end.

When a young witch turns 13, the first step of her witch's training is to live on her own for one year, using her magic to earn a living. We first meet Kiki not long after her 13th birthday, full of excitement as she prepares to leave home. She eventually settles down in a beautiful, vaguely-European seaside town. Kiki loves to fly on her broomstick, so she decides upon flying as her witching specialty, and opens up a delivery service. Throughout her deliveries, she gets to know many people in the town, including the Bohemian artist Ursula, her kindly landlady and surrogate mother Osono, and the flight-obsessed Tombo. And, of course, accompanying her all the way is her black cat Jiji. But soon, the stresses of the real world start to crush young Kiki, and it becomes a struggle just to stay ahead. But with the help of her new friends, Kiki just might discover the magic within herself.

What I Liked
Everything. The music, the animation, the characters are just very compelling and draw you in. They seem so real...even though they're witches. I really do love this film.

What I Didn't Like
Nothing. One of the few films where I have no complaints.

Final Verdict
This is my favourite Miyazaki film, so I'm heavily biased. But I just absolutly love it.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
The original Japanese title is Majo no Takkyūbin. The only problem with this is "Takkyūbin" is actually the copyrighted slogan of Yamato Transport...a Japanese courier service. Yamato was actually quite enthusiastic about the project and became a major sponsor of the film. Before the film came out, and to this very day, they use a black cat as their logo.

Translation Notes
I want to take an extra step to talk about the dubbing. As I said, this is my favourite one, so I've watched it the most. I tend to personally prefer the subtitled versions of anime myself, and since I'm watching the dubs for this project, this was actually the first time in a long time I saw the dub. It's interesting to see what's changed. True, Disney was barred from actually editing the film, but they could do minor touches in the audio. There's more expository dialogue, spoken by characters when their back's to the camera. As many others have pointed out, the biggest is change is Jiji, Kiki's black cat. In the original, Jiji has kind of a screechy voice and acts more like the voice of reason. In the dub, Jiji is voiced by Phil Hartman, and is more like the typical wisecracking talking animal sidekick that you see in animated films.

And again, going back to the music, I love the Japanese opening song, but prefer the English ending song. I wish I could mix and match.

Next Time
Next on the list is a little film that grew and grew...it was originally meant to be an exclusive in-flight film for Japan Airlines, but the project grew in scope and size until it became a blockbuster epic. It's a rousing tale of air pirates, curses, and man with the face of a pig. Next time, we're watching Porco Rosso.

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