Kiki's Delivery Service (Blu-ray + DVD)
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Discover KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, a fantastic coming-of-age tale full of magic, adventure and self-discovery from the sensational imagination of Academy Award(R)-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (2002, Best Animated Feature, SPIRITED AWAY). And now you can explore even more of Kiki's amazing world through never-before-seen bonus features -- exclusively in this 2-Disc Special Edition! Kiki is an enterprising young girl who must follow tradition to become a full-fledged witch. Venturing out with only her black cat, Jiji, Kiki flies off for the adventure of a lifetime. Landing in a far-off city, she sets up a high-flying delivery service and begins a wonderful experience of independence and responsibility as she finds her place in the world. Bring home KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE from Studio Ghibli and Disney for the first time ever on Blu-ray, and share Kiki's high-flying adventure again and again.
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KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE may have been my first real exposure to Miyazaki, but 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.)
The story is about 13-year old Kiki, an adorable witch-in-training, who, on one moonlit night, leaves her hometown to seek her independence and fortune. She's accompanied by her wisecracking and hilarious pet black cat, Jiji, and a little wobbly when it comes to takeoffs and landings while maneuvering her broomstick. Kiki arrives at a luxurious town with an ocean view where she eventually finds work at a bakery run by the generous Osono and her silent, gruff husband. There, she starts a high-flying delivery service which opens up many new relationships for the budding witch -- including a friendly painter, Ursula, a kind old woman, Madame, and a boy named Tombo, who dreams of flying.
The above synopsis may sound dull, but KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE certainly is not. It is a joy to watch from start to finish as we see Kiki slowly grow up and learn to have faith in herself, especially when her powers begin to fade away toward the end of the movie. It's 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 action-packed or angst-ridden to be entertaining.
In 1996, Disney struck a deal with Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's studio, to distribute the director's movies worldwide. KIKI was their first release. It proved to be a very successful release when it was released to video on September of 1998; it sold over a million copies in the US - a record for any Anime video. But since then, the movie has been out of print, and there was never a DVD release. Recently, however, Disney has given this movie its first ever DVD release in America (debuting alongside CASTLE IN THE SKY and SPIRITED AWAY).
The movie was originally dubbed into English by Carl Macek of Streamline Pictures, but Disney redubbed the movie when they struck a deal with Miyazaki's Studio Studio Ghibli (for worldwide distribution of his movies, starting with this) with an all-star cast whose performances hold up well even today. Thirteen-year-old Kirsten Dunst is perfect as Kiki, eliciting just the right touch of cuteness, spunkiness, independence, and poignancy to her role. The other actors, which include Debbie Reynolds (Madame), Tress MacNeille - of TINY TOONS and ANIMANIACS fame - (Osono), Jeanane Garofolo (Ursula), and Matthew Lawrence (Tombo), give similarly superb performances. Of the actors, however, it is the late Phil Hartman's witty, sarcastic take on Jiji that steals the show. He added in some new dialogue and proved to be so good at his role that he actually expanded the character. I swear, I just cannot get enough laughs every time I hear his lines. ("First, don't panic! Second, don't panic! And THIRD, did I mention not to panic?!?") The opening and ending songs were replaced by two gorgeous, rollicking numbers from Sydney Forest, but even they seem to suit the story wonderful. In fact, I find myself bouncing to them every time they pop up over the opening and closing credits of the show.
Recently, however, Disney has given KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE a second DVD edition, which offers a lot more extras than its previous edition did (there's newly recorded interviews with Miyazaki and a half-hour long documentary on the locations Miyazaki and his staff visited in order to get ideas for the film's settings). Controversially, though, the new edition also makes some significant edits to the English dub--all the extra dialogue for the dub is gone (which includes much of Hartman's one-liners for Jiji: although one of them omitted--the last in the film which alters an important plot point--is beneficial), and so are the Forest songs. In fact, the entire sound mix has been reverted to the original Japanese music and sound effects, but the vocals aren't as well mixed--there are times when the actors sound like they're talking into a fan. Whether the extras warrant a double-dipping of this revised special edition is up to the customer.
The themes of Kiki's Delivery Service are noble ones. There are far worse ways to spend a few hours (or a few dozen) than watching a young girl make friends and gain self-confidence, especially one as appealing as Kiki. Buy yourself an extra copy of this video. When you wear the first one out watching it by yourself, you'll need the spare to placate the kids.
In terms of story, it's an odd film: there's not much in the way of `plot.' The film depends strongly on its heroine and the way she learns from the world and the people around her as she grows up. Kiki is a thirteen-year-old witch in training who leaves her home to start her required period of living on her own to discover her talents. Kiki and her cat sidekick Jiji jet out on her broom to a city (vaguely European, with traces of Paris, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam) and settle down at a friendly baker's shop, where Kiki establishes her own broom-powered delivery service (look out, Fed-Ex!). The story follows her troubles and joys, such as her friendship with a local boy inventor Tombo, her meeting with nature-loving artist Ursula, the tricks and difficulties of making deliveries, and the possible loss of her powers when she starts to lose belief in herself. It all climaxes in a thrilling action sequence that Superman would be proud of.
The movie leaps from wonderful sequence to wonderful sequence: Kiki's passionate farewell to her parents, her first flight over the city, Tombo's wild ride on his experimental flying bike, a dangerous flight through a flock of birds, the action-packed finale, and the many terrific meetings between Kiki and other charming characters. Watching Kiki learn and grow will have an affect on children young and old: everybody can take something away from the lessons Kiki learns about herself. And of course, the animation is dazzling; not only the sweeping visuals, but the nuances of the characters' expressions and movements.
The DVD offers the film in English and Japanese (oh, and Spanish too). If you watch the film in Japanese, you have the choice to watch it with two different sets of subtitles. One set is a literal translation of the Japanese script. The second are taken directly from the English version, and therefore have a distinctly "American" feel to them. I recommend when watching the Japanese version to stick with the literal subtitles. Since the English dub of the film often adds extra lines to characters (especially Jiji), it can be confusing to see subtitles pop up when nobody is speaking.
The Americanized dubbed version, however, is fantastic as well, and done with great respect and intelligence. The voice cast is superb: Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, Janeane Garofola as Ursula, and Debbie Reynolds as sweet old Miss Dora. But the scene-stealer is the late Phil Hartman as Kiki's smart-aleck cat companion, Jiji. Hartman is hysterical in every scene, totally nailing down the character, and his performance is a bittersweet reminder of what a great comedian we lost with his premature death. If you're going to watch the film with children or a large, general group of people, stick with the English version. It's quite an achievement, and just as enjoyable as the Japanese version.
There are some extras, although a lot less than you would expect for a 2-DVD set. John Lassiter (director of "Toy Story") introduces the film, and there's a short documentary about the English language actors. The second disc contains the whole film in storyboard and rough sketch form: this will really only be of interest to animators and hardcore Miyazaki fans.
Every family should have "Kiki's Delivery" service in their library, although the adults may find themselves returning to it as much as the children; and it's a great introduction to Miyazaki. Make sure you also watch "Castle in the Sky," "Spirited Away," and "Princess Mononoke" (the last one isn't really for kids, however).
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