Kiki's Delivery Service Review
Back in 1989 Director Hayao Miyazaki released his fourth feature-length animated film to the (extremely privileged) Japanese public. Now, twelve years later myself and many other fans are finally able to own Kiki's Delivery Service on the DVD format in its original language after having been restricted to the NTSC Dubbed only VHS for several years. More important however is that the work of Miyazaki and his co-founded enterprise, Studio Ghibli, is finally becoming available on a more widespread scale so that inquisitive filmgoers the world over can take their first tentative steps into the fantasy worlds he creates in a way that few others can (and those few others tend to be his esteemed colleagues!).
As fresh as I am sure it ever was back in 1989 Kiki's Delivery Service remains so today thanks to the sheer level of effort put behind the wonderfully crafted and deceptively simple storyline that, like Miyazaki's other work never fails to leave its mark on the hardest of places to reach, your heart. We start out with 13 year old Kiki enjoying a calm summers day, listening to the radio's weather forecast she decides tonight is the night she will embark upon her training as all young witches do at her age. Accompanied only by her black talking cat Jiji, Kiki sets off on her journey to discover a new home where she will develop her special skills and more importantly her resolve within the world she inhabits. After entering an unsuspecting rural town Kiki soon meets the kind-hearted Bakers wife, Osono, who offers Kiki a room in return for helping out in the store. It is here that Kiki discovers her flying abilities will come in useful for delivering goods whereupon she sets up her own Delivery Service and it is from here that the story simply progresses as she develops her newfound business (enjoying several mini-adventures as she does so) while slowly gaining confidence in both herself and the townspeople.
Along the way Kiki has to face some serious personal problems that in one way or another many of you reading will surely have come across yourself and it is these kind of real world problems and indeed the real world scenario in which it is all played out in that makes Kiki's such a wonderfully charming story. An example of how delightfully close to home Kiki's Delivery Service feels is how, if you had not already guessed, Kiki is barely a witch in the way you and I might think of one. Instead she is just an astonishingly normal person who just happens to be a witch, and is seen as such by the local townsfolk. An example of this is how her reasons for feeling out of place upon entering her new home have very little to do with the fact that she is the only person flying around on a broom, but are actually for the exact same reasons you and I would feel a little uncomfortable after moving to a new town.
Any critic will tell you that Kiki's Delivery Service continued the fine tradition of previous Studio Ghibli films by containing a quality of animation rarely seen even today, and who am I to buck the trend! Beautifully animated and absolutely bustling with detail you could show this today and still fool the audience into believing it is a recent production because even if it lacks the (computer based) polish of recent animated titles its real look holds as much charm as the story and characterisation does and is indeed an integral part of those features. Regular Ghibli composer, the quite magnificent Jo Hisaishi returned yet again to score the film and delivered another fine selection of pieces that both capture your heart and invigorate the spirit much like the film with its near perfect selection of components does.
A warm and heartfelt tale, Kiki's Delivery Service is another Miyazaki classic that will be enjoyed by both young and old alike. Satisfying in every department anyone who allows themselves to be swept along on Kiki's journey will be thoroughly endeared with the characters, captivated by the look and sound, invigorated by the action packed finale, and most of all touched to the point that you will 'well-up' by the sheer beauty of the film as a whole.
This Region 2 DVD release of Kiki's Delivery Service was released back on June 8th 2001 and retails for 4700yen. You can purchase this title through our Yesasia affiliate link.
The Region 2 release of Kiki's Delivery Service was the first to set a new trend in front cover artwork for the Studio Ghibli releases in Japan. The first two releases in the Ghibli Collection had full front cover artwork (Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and My Neighbours the Yamadas, the latter of which has since been re-released with the only change being a new front cover design to match the more recent releases) but from the release of Kiki's Delivery Service onwards we are treated to a front cover that contains a bordered piece of artwork and the various Ghibli Collection Logos and titles carefully positioned around it.
Packaged in a White Single Thickness Double Armaray case this release again matches that of the other R2 releases in the collection. Inside we find a selection of inserts, all of which are in Japanese, and include instructions on how to use the DVD, advertisements for existing and forthcoming releases (including a fine piece of artwork from Spirited Away) while the disc artwork is quite sublime.
Although official details are hard to come by due to my Japanese not being up to scratch it is quite obvious to anyone who pops in the Japanese Ghibli discs that they have been working day and night to restore and create a gorgeous set of transfers for their esteemed library of films. Originally released in 1989 Kiki's Delivery Service looks as though it has just finished its theatrical run a few weeks ago and has quite simply never looked better. Presented at the original 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio and utilising Anamorphic Enhancement this is a very fine transfer indeed. The remastered print is in near pristine condition with only the occasional speckle of dust and some fine white specks making themselves visible but the only reason you will even notice them is because of how clean the rest of the print is. The colours are simply gorgeous, black levels nigh on perfect while detail levels are as high as I have ever seen them in an animated title. Bar some very minor pixellation in the opening title sequences dark blue hues (that will only be noticed by picky critics such as myself) there is absolutely zero encoding difficulties mostly thanks to the near solid 9-10 bit rate but absolutely down to the great care Studio Ghibli have taken with all of their R2 releases.
Continuing the trend they started with Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro Studio Ghibli have again eschewed the idea of DD5.1 remixes and have instead included both the Original Japanese Language Audio track and the English Dub track in their original Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround formats and after experiencing these superior Pro-Logic Audio Tracks I can see why! The quite superb Japanese DD2.0 Surround track offers squeaky-clean voices via the centre speaker (and are localised when appropriate) while the superb musical score from Jo Hisaishi engulfs the room with every given opportunity. Even more pleasing is the use of directional sound effects on both the front and rear speakers, ideal opportunities to note this use comes in the Chapter 5 thunderstorm which positively fills the room with life while the frequent flights Kiki embarks upon also contain their share of well placed sound effects which all adds up to a fine Dolby Pro-Logic Audio Experience. The included English DD2.0 Audio track is slightly lower in sound quality but none-the-less is still remarkably clear and makes equally good use of the surround and centre speakers. But now to take some time to discuss the Disney Produced English Dub track.
Like with the large majority of Studio Ghibli titles Kiki's Delivery Service is blessed with a rather good English dub. On the whole the dialogue is faithful to the original Japanese although some alterations have occurred. Most noticeable would be Osono's husband who while silent on the Japanese track (bar the occasional grunt) utters a word or two on the English Dub while other characters occasionally have slightly more dialogue but usually the sentences are more long-winded rather than different when compared to the more direct Japanese script. One change that was a dead cert from the Disney camp would be the justification added to Kiki and Ursula's decision to hitch a lift (in the Japanese version they simply hitch a lift, in the English Dub extra dialogue is added suggesting the driver knows Ursula, therefore it is okay) but this is understandable given the younger market this title would be directed at in the US/English markets. Another noticeable difference comes prior to the end-credit sequence and involves Jiji, I will say no more due to possible spoilers but the English dub certainly offers a considerable difference at this point in the film. The talent on offer does a commendable job, Kirsten Dunst gives a fine performance in the lead role while Phil Hartman's performance of Jiji is far removed from the Japanese voice artist but still offers an interesting (and more comical) performance though whether it is better is open to discussion. The music has also been slightly altered with all new opening and ending songs and fortunately only very minor alterations (but mainly additions) to Hisaishi's score. Like many of the Ghibli dubs I have no qualms in saying that on occasion (usually with friends or relatives) I will quite happily sit down and watch Kiki's in its English dub form and will certainly enjoy it, but deep down I will be yearning for the original Japanese Language track whose voice artists on the whole deliver a more rounded, hell, lets just say it, a perfect vocalisation of the onscreen characters whose little nuances just cannot be matched by the English alternative.
Both English and Japanese removable subtitles are provided. The included English subtitles are in fact dubtitles (where rather than offer a literal translation of the Japanese script we are given a direct translation of the English Dub track) although strangely they are not of the included Disney English Dub but instead come from the original Carl Macek supervised English Dub that was created prior to the Disney effort for Japan Airlines trans-Pacific flights. This original dub was personally checked and given the thumbs up by Miyazaki and it is understandable why as this is extremely close to the original Japanese dialogue making the lack of a literal subtitle track almost forgivable. So essentially we have a very good English Dubtitle track that is very well presented on this DVD release with a clear and easy to read font and, unless my eyes deceive me, zero spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Again eschewing the approach most DVD producers take the menu found on this Region 2 DVD release keeps everything simple with static menus that offer a series of beautiful original sketches. While I quite enjoy the lack of slow animated menus I must say that the simple addition of Hisaishi's superb score accompanying your menu travels would have made this all but perfect (oh, and an English language version would be nice, but is hardly essential).
All of the extra features included in this release can be found on Disc 2 and all extra features are presented in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with NO English Subtitles but as you will discover this is not much of a problem on this particular release.
The most significant extra feature comes in the form of the Film/Storyboard Multi-Angle Feature that allows you to watch the entire film again and use the Angle button on your remote control to switch to Hayao Miyazaki's complete original storyboards. This feature is quite superbly implemented and is extremely simple to use which makes the general excellence of it that bit more enjoyable. Miyazaki's storyboards are highly detailed and even include both stage and camera directions all of which allows the viewer to see just how much effort he puts into his films (and probably the reason why he has now retired twice!) and exactly what the animators are given to work with. The video presentation on this feature is again 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen but in the case of the film transfer the bit rate has been halved to a more average 5bps (in comparison with the 1st discs almost constant 9.5bps) so they can squeeze it all on. This does compromise the picture slightly and reduces fine detail while lines become less stable with the night time scenes suffering the most but in all it is still a very fine transfer and more than suitable for this purpose.
Further extra features come in the shape of a Trailer Reel which runs for 8-minutes and is split into 5 chapters, each of which represents the 3 TV-Spots and 2 Original Theatrical Trailers that are presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen in this section. While trailers are always worthy of a look viewers will most likely be more intrigued by the video quality of these trailers that in comparison to the remastered picture found on this DVD is quite appalling! Moving further into the menus you will find an Ursula's Painting Featurette that runs for 2:30minutes and looks at the painting by Ursula from the film. Originally created by children who attend a school for the challenged this featurette takes a closer look at this quite exquisite piece of art all of which is accompanied by Jo Hisaishis score from the same point in the film.
The last few extra features all take the form of promotional trailers for further Ghibli titles. The first of these is a Trailer for the now box-office smash Spirited Away which at the time of this R2 DVD release was just about to open in Japanese Theatres (and is still going strong now having just nudged past the $200million mark!). Presented in a quite beautiful Non-Anamorphic 1:85:1 picture format this trailer has a lengthy but much appreciated 4:46minutes running time. The film looks quite phenomenal and myself and many other Ghibli fans will be positively drooling at the prospect of an official UK Cinematic release (if it ever happens). The second trailer to be found is the Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer which is a 90-second piece that showcases the Studio Ghibli films from 1984's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to 1999's My Neighbours the Yamadas. The final extra features are the Studio Ghibli DVD Trailers. Split into 3 chapters for 3 productions this 4-minute Trailer reel showcases Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Sherlock Hound and the My Neighbour Totoro DVD releases.
Kiki's Delivery Service is another masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli and should quite simply be picked up by everyone reading and for any fan of their work then this Japanese R2 release is quite simply the way to go as it offers a superb audio/visual experience and comes supplied with a great set of extra features.