Kiki's Delivery Service Review
NOTE: This Buena Vista DVD release has since been deleted and replaced by an Optimum Asia release which is reviewed here.
Let's start off with the simple facts: Kiki's Delivery Service is a Studio Ghibli film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, etc. etc.). It was originally released in 1989 in Japan, but didn't receive a theatrical release in the UK or America... though it was shown in various film festivals, making its English-language debut at the Seattle International Film Festival in 1998.
It's won a number of Japanese film and animé awards, including Best Animated Film at the 44th Mainichi Film Competition, Kinema Jupo's Best Japanese Film of the Year and Best Animé at the 12th Annual Animé Grand Prix. The original Japanese title is Majo no Takkyubin (literally 'Witch's Express Delivery') and it's based on a children's book of the same title by Kadano Eiko. The author was originally so unhappy with some of Miyazaki's changes to her work that the film almost never left screenplay stage... but Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli producer Suzuki brought Ms Kadano into the studio and eventually secured her consent for their vision.
So onto the film itself, having established its credentials as one of Miyazaki's animated wonders. Kiki is a witch and she's just turned 13. This is very important because upon turning 13, witches must leave their homes and seek a city without a witch and develop their skills there for a year – usually, it seems, providing a service for their newfound communities. So it's a coming of age story with a magical twist. Despite her parents' sadness at her leaving, Kiki picks a clear full-moon night and decides to set off with her black cat, Jiji.
Through the night Kiki flies, searching for a city she'd like to make her own, until she stumbles upon Koriko – a beautiful harbour town (mostly composed of images of Stockholm, though Miyazaki states it's a 'mish-mash of various locales, like Napoli, Lisbon, Stockholm, Paris and even San Francisco'). Discovering her chosen town to be suitably lacking in witches, Kiki makes it her home away from home, though not without some heartache. She launches a delivery service (as you might gather from the title of the film) with some startup help from a bakery owner (Osono) and her husband, who provide her with her initial business and a roof over her head.
But things don't always go right for Kiki and she faces many problems, including rain, misplaced items and well, the customers themselves. At the same time, she's away from home, lonely and full of worries. It's a classic piece of coming of age, young girl in a new town desperately trying to establish herself and discover her true inner strength.
Through all her challenges Kiki finds a number of friends able and willing to help her. Osono and her husband act as surrogate parents, giving support and a place to stay. Tombo, a young boy who desperately wants to fly, gives companionship and laughter. One of Kiki's customers, Madame, shows such kindness that it injects Kiki with a newfound energy when times are going badly. And finally Ursula, a young painter who has already been through Kiki's struggle herself, gives apposite advice to the young witch. The biggest challenge Kiki has to face is when she loses her magic, at which point she must draw on all her own strength, bolstered by the support of her friends, to truly discover herself and become independent.
The film is beautifully-animated, and the characters well-developed. Yes, the heroine is a 13-year old girl. But in true Miyazaki style, she has a charm and spirit in her that see her through her bad times. The film's theme of developing independence when away from home is a far-reaching one. Everyone eventually goes through stages of leaving home, seeking financial independence and learning inner skills and talents.
Kiki's Delivery Service has also been blessed by having extremely talented voice casts, both in the original Japanese version and in this new Disney English version. The most prominent of the Japanese voice actors is Minami Takayama (who plays both Kiki and Ursula); she's also voiced Nabiki in Ranma ½, Shiris in Record of Lodoss War, Ascot in Rayearth, Mukuro in Yu Yu Hakusho, Dilando Albatau and Prince Ceido in Escaflowne, Ataka Rin in Gasaraki amongst many many others. She's also a member of DoCo – the famous all-female Japanese singing group made up of the voice actors behind the women of Ranma ½.
Another DoCo member on the cast is Rei Sakuma, who provides the voice of Jiji (yes, in the Japanese version Jiji has a female voice!). Other credits for Rei Sakuma include Arshes Ney in Bastard!, Shampoo in Ranma ½, Morrigan in Vampire Hunter: the Animated Series, Touya Akiko in Hikaru No Go, again, amongst many. Tombo's voice actor, Kappei Yamaguchi, is another with a huge amount of experience in the arena. He's appeared as Johnny in A Wind Named Amnesia, Sumeragi Subaru in Tokyo Babylon, Shesta in Escaflowne, Inu Yasha in Inu Yasha, and Ranma in... you guessed it... Ranma ½! There's a definite strong Ranma ½ link between these actors, who've obviously worked together quite a bit. And this is just a glimpse into the talented cast assembled to provide the voices in what really is a lovely piece of acting and drama.
The English cast assembled by Disney are talented as well, and it's a very nice dub (for those that prefer their animé in dub format). Kiki is voiced by Kirsten Dunst (Virgin Suicides, Spider-Man, and Crazy/Beautiful, among others). She has also has provided the voice of Kaena in Kaena: La Prophétie, Becky Thatcher in The Animated Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the young Anastasia in Anastasia. The English dub has a separate actress for the voice of Ursula, namely Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men, The Truth About Cats and Dogs) who has also previously done voice work as Stith in Titan AE.
Jiji has a male voice for the English version, which actually works just as well as the Japanese female equivalent. (It is initially a little strange for anyone used to the Japanese Jiji, however.) His voice is provided by Phil Hartman, previously a member of the Saturday Night Live cast who then went on to star in NewsRadio. He was tragically shot and killed by his wife in 1998. Again, he was no stranger to voice work having provided various voices for Darkwing Duck, Gravedale High and Tale Spin, not forgetting The Smurfs. He was also the voice of Tom Morgan in The Pagemaster. Osono is voiced by Tress MacNeille, an incredibly experienced English voice actress who does a sterling job in this role. Her previous work includes Mom/Linda in Futurama, Tiger in George of the Jungle, Charlotte Pickles in Rugrats Go Wild, and various voices in Stitch! The Movie as well as many other Disney specials. She's also played characters in an assortment of famous computer games such as Kingdom Hearts, the Fallout series, Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate 2.
Picture & Sound
OK, the animation is stunning – we know that. It's incredibly detailed and in the usual beautiful Miyazaki style. This particular transfer is also very good – colours are deep and rich and there's very few faults to mention at all... perhaps a tiny bit of macro-blocking and the odd shimmering line in what is otherwise an extremely clean transfer.
Audio-wise you can choose to listen to Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks of English, Italian, Spanish or Japanese. I only listened to the Japanese and English tracks but both were fairly front-loaded; crowd scenes employed more directionality, as did musical segments, where the added impact of DD 5.1 sound gives a really rich feel to the score. The original 2.0 Japanese soundtrack is not included in this release, which is a shame for the purists. Never having heard it myself, I find it hard to make a comparison to what's on offer on this disc, but I really enjoyed both of the soundtracks I listened to here.
Menus, Extras & Packaging
Menus are static, featuring backgrounds from the film and bold yellow text offering possible menu selections – they're OK, but nothing overly special. At least there are a few clips of music to liven things up a bit.
Nor is the packaging particularly exciting, though the picture on the front of the Amaray case is quite a cute one of Kiki and Jiji on the broom together. The disc itself is decorated with a shot of Kiki flying and Tombo chatting to her from his bicycle. (There's no insert included with the DVD.)
Finally, the only extra here is the storyboarding, which allows you to view the storyboards for the entire film in 4:3 aspect ratio. The only language that accompanies this special feature is Japanese, but you can always turn on the English, Spanish or Italian subtitles to get you through it.
The huge store of talent that has gone into making this film really shines through when you sit down to watch it. The story is touching but not saccharine sweet, the dialogue and acting superb, and the animation as glorious as we've come to expect from Ghibli and Miyazaki. Fans won't be disappointed at all – and non-fans may well be won over!