Posted on 6/04/06 10:36 AM
It's hard for me to choose a favorite film from Hayao Miyazaki, but Kiki's Delivery Service holds a special place in my heart. It was the first film of his I saw that inspired me to become a fan of his; in fact, this film changed my mind completely about Anime (I once thought it was just sex and violence-a common stereotype people make; now I realize it depends on the title). This happens to be the director's fifth film, which was the highest grossing movie of its year in Japan. Adapted from a children's book by Eiko Kadono (which is to be released in America as of this writing), the film is not a typical good-versus-evil conflicted, dysfunctional story but a gentle, character-driven story with endearing characters, beautiful artistry, and a strong, positive message about confidence and independence that are quite encouraging for all, from the youngest of children to the oldest at heart. (On a side note, it persuaded me to get some exercise! The "fat, fat, FAT!!!" line did it for me.)
Adapted from a popular Japanese children's book by Eiko Kadono, the film tells the story of a cheerfully friendly and instantly likable witch wanna-be, Kiki. On a starry, moonlit night, our thirteen-year-old heroine bids farewell to her family and friends and sets off with her talking pet black cat, Jiji, to practice her witchcraft in a far off town. She discovers a beautiful city nestled at the edge of a roaring sea, but has a harder time fitting in than she expects.
Eventually, Kiki meets Osono, a pregnant baker who generously gives her a place to stay in a dusty attic above her bakery. Kiki decides to start a new delivery service using her flying abilities, and eventually opens up friendships with Ursula, a friendly artist living alone in a log cabin; Madame, a warm and loving elderly woman; and a mischievous brat named Ket. Tombo, a bespectacled boy who dreams of flying, becomes smitten with Kiki and attempts to hook up with her. Initially, Kiki misunderstands Tombo's friendly overtures and treats him disdainfully, but she later realizes that he is, at heart, a sweet kid interested only in her as a person.
If this sounds like a happy story, then the second half takes a bit of an emotionally charged turn when Kiki mysteriously loses her powers (not to mention her abilities to talk to Jiji and fly). Only by learning to believe in herself can she regain both--and, in an unexpectedly grand finale, emerges as a major heroine by saving Tombo from a runaway dirigible.
Naturally one would assume that this type of story would spell a recipe for boredom, but the biggest surprise is that film avoids dullness and instead aspires for charm and simplicity. It is a joy to watch Kiki as she interacts with her new friends and gradually adjusts to her new life. We feel her plight as she encounters one ungrateful customer during her flight and laugh along with her whenever she's happy. (That's how infectious she is as a character.)
The animation is beautiful and outstandingly rendered in imagination and admiration. The European-like town that Kiki comes to stay at evokes a sense of wonder and surprise and the beauty of the woods where Ursula lives in makes one want to live a similar life of simplicity. Kiki's flight scenes are gorgeous to watch and at times exciting--especially when she gets caught in a rainstorm or chased by angry crows.
The movie as a whole is engrossing enough to keep one's attention and there are a number of tear-jerking moments that make it more than just a movie. This is a characteristic you'll only be able to find in Miyazaki, and Kiki's Delivery Service "delivers" a wonderful movie which shows that movies don't have to be about overcoming evil or angst-ridden to be entertaining.
This was also the first of Miyazaki's films that Disney dubbed, and, like any of their English tracks, it "delivers" in excellence and entertainment value. Kirsten Dunst voices Kiki with an infectious charm of enthusiasm and spunkiness; some found Dunst to be miscast as Kiki, and I can't understand why, especially since she does such a delightful job bringing her to life. Matthew Lawrence as Tombo really does come across sounding geeky and a bit of a doofus, yet at the same time very sweet and caring. Debbie Reynolds lends her warm, gentle voice to Madame, voicing her with the sort of kindness that you would expect from an elderly old woman. Selecting Janeane Garofolo as Ursula is a somewhat different type of casting choice in comparison to the original Japanese (in which Kiki and Ursula were both played by Minami Takayama), but it works well. While her voice comes across as a bit husky sounding at times, she brings outgoing cheerfulness and intelligent wisdom to the role.
Talented as these guys are, they are ultimately upstaged by what is probably the most controversial casting decision of the dub--the late comedian Phil Hartman as Kiki's pet black cat Jiji. This choice infuriated purists, for his more deadpan, sarcastic-sounding comic schtick put a wildly different spin on the character (who, from what I understand, was played in the original Japanese version by a woman, and as a shy, quiet cat); many argued that Hartman's one-liners somehow taints the innocence and charm of the original. On the other hand, it is very hard to write off Hartman's voice work here; his nasal-sounding, sardonic Jiji literally provides all the laughs. He's so good, in fact, that he practically ends up stealing the show; the chemistry between him and Dunst really does make a lot of magic, and, on the flip side, makes one feel sad when the two lose their ability to communicate with each other. (Of course, in this Disney version, an extra line is added on at the end which implies that Jiji can talk to Kiki again now that she has her powers back, a change that must have been a most debatable one, no doubt.) It's a shame, too, that this was Hartman's last role; he passed away shortly after completing his work, and fans shall miss him dearly.
The other performers who make up the dub consist of veterans known for their contemporary voice acting, including a very cheery Tress MacNeille as Osono, Edie McClurg as Madame's housemaid, Barsa, as well as Jeff Bennett and Kath Soucie as Kiki's parents. In addition, Anime dub talent such as Sherry Lynn, John Hostetter (who lends his gruff voice to the airship captain), John DeMita (as an excited newscaster), Debi Derryberry, and several others all contribute to various speaking parts, giving the overall dub a delicious mixture of harmonious chemistry between familiar names, cartoon actors, and traditional dub voiceovers. I like this, as it makes watching the Disney Ghibli English tracks a real treat as a whole.
As with Castle in the Sky, there are music changes in Kiki's Delivery Service's score by Joe Hisaishi, but unlike Castle (which received an arguably superior-sounding reorchestration by the composer himself), most of these new pieces (provided by Paul Chihara) are soft piano/string/vocal tunes which were obviously done to overlay scenes using silence. There's even one comical string-plucking of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" when Kiki is attacked by angry crows and even a few "Mickey-Moused" rifts thrown in to add comic effects. I didn't find these new ditties as spectacular as Hisaishi's aforementioned rescore for Castle in the Sky, but they didn't really bother me at all and the best part is that they at least retain much of the original themes that Joe Hisaishi originally composed for Kiki. The most significant music change was the opening and ending theme songs, which were replaced by two rollickingly bouncy pop numbers by Sydney Forest. This was done, from what I understand, because of licensing issues for using the original songs in the English version. While I've read disdainful comments about these two replacements, "Soaring" and "I'm Gonna Fly," I found both to be tuneful and fitting in spirit with the movie. Plus, it helps that Forest has a lovely voice.
As far as the script adaptation goes, this is a bit of an interesting situation here. In the early 1990's, Carl Macek and his company, Streamline Pictures, produced an English dub for screening on Japanese Airline Flights. Macek's scripts have taken hits from purists for sometimes varying radically from their source material, but with Kiki, he provided an adaptation which was surprisingly accurate (for the most part). It was this script, funnily enough, that writer John Semper (with additional polish from Jack Fletcher) were handed in order to work their English adaptation. I did notice a few radical changes from the subtitled script in the Disney dub (for example, Kiki is offered "hot chocolate" as opposed to "coffee" in the subtitles), but most of it is just for natural flow and for lipflap purposes, and none of them really alter the original source material greatly. Still, many have criticized the extra throwaway lines that fill in some previously silent scenes. Ultimately, however, it is not these added-in and/or altered lines that affect the dub, but rather how the viewer chooses to take them that counts. And personally, I feel that these extra lines expand on the movie, actually making it more entertaining and certainly funnier.
To sum it up, Kiki's Delivery Service is a gem that should not be missed and deserves to be well-known in America as it is in Japan. I highly -- and I do mean very highly -- recommend it.