Review for Kiki`s Delivery Service - Double Play: The Studio Ghibli Collection
Most anime fans can recall their gateway into the medium, that one show that suddenly awakened them to the possibilities of Japanese animation. But Kiki’s Delivery Service was actually my gateway into Studio Ghibli. I can’t recall exactly when it was, but I managed to catch a TV showing of Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the next day I was off to my local DVD emporium to buy the DVD. The day after that, I went and returned it, and ordered the Region 4 release instead. This was back when Disney owned the rights to the Ghibli catalogue in the UK, and the discs they released here were woefully cut down versions of the US discs. Kiki’s Delivery Service was light on extras, and it had true dubtitles based on the 1998 Disney dub. I’m not fond of that dub, although not because of the actor performances, which were top-notch a-list as always. The Australian release from Madman Entertainment was better, in terms of presentation and in terms of extra features, and the all important subtitles that weren’t dubtitles. And then, one month after I finally got hold of that Australian disc, Optimum Entertainment picked up the Ghibli catalogue for the UK, and started giving the films the treatment they deserved.
Optimum Entertainment recently changed its name to Studiocanal, and Studiocanal have been giving the Ghibli films the high definition treatment, releasing around four a year. This summer, they get to my favourite Ghibli film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and you can bet that I have been waiting to get my hands on this film with unseemly eagerness. I’ve also had a chance to read up around the history of Kiki’s Delivery Service in the West and found out some interesting things. For one thing, those subtitles on that Australian disc that I bought were actually dubtitles after all, which explains what on occasion appear to be rather loose translations (although not as loose as the Disney dub). It turns out that Streamline Pictures first dubbed Kiki’s Delivery Service for certain airlines, and the subtitles were transcribed from that dub.
In 1998, Disney dubbed the film again with an all-star cast, this time for home video release, and made what seemed to some to be some rather contentious alterations, not least in the ending of the film, but also by adding some extra music. In 2010, for the US DVD re-release, Disney re-dubbed it, this time losing the extraneous dialogue from the end of the film, and restoring the original music soundtrack. Another bugbear of mine with that Australian release was English language overlays on scenes with Japanese text, a couple in the film, but most notably the film’s credit sequences, all of which were in VHS quality, in comparison to the rest of the film’s NTSC-PAL conversion. There is a lot that can be fixed with Kiki’s Delivery Service and now that it’s coming out on Blu-ray, this might just be the time to see the film done justice.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is coming out on Dual Play Blu-ray DVD combo, but I only received the Blu-ray disc for review.
Kiki is a young witch who has come of age. At the age of 13, all witches are expected to leave home for a year and train in magic, as well as serve a community that has need of their services. She decides to leave home on the night of the full moon with her cat Jiji. She isn’t too skilled though, with her only real talent one of flying, and she’s still a little shaky at that. Still she and Jiji make their way to the city, although coming from a small village, the impersonal nature of city dwellers comes as a shock. The police don’t look too kindly on flying either. It’s hard for Kiki to find a niche in a city that doesn’t appear to need a witch’s talents, but it’s when she meets a bakery owner named Osono that she realises that she has an aptitude for delivery. The kind-hearted Osono gives her a roof over her head and lets her operate her delivery service from the bakery. Kiki also attracts the attention of Tombo, a young boy with a passion for flying. But Kiki’s powers begin to fade when she needs them most.
Kiki’s Delivery Service gets a gorgeous 1.85:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. The film has cleaned up a treat, with no signs of print damage, and with rich, lush and warm colours. Critics of DNR will most likely find fault with this release; as usual Madman Entertainment, from where these masters have been sourced, tend to apply some noise reduction to their Ghibli releases. In my opinion it’s applied with a light touch, and the animation never looks less than filmic, with a fine layer of film grain evident throughout. The animation is superb as always, the character designs conform to the Ghibli archetypes, and the richness of the backgrounds, the sheer detail is all visible as never before. I was in 103 minutes of Kiki heaven last night, and already I want to watch the film over again. Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1080p high definition with progressive 24fps playback... it doesn’t get much better than that.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, both at 1.5Mb per second bitrate. The stereo effect is pleasant enough, and accurately recreates the original experience of watching the film. The dialogue is clear, and the engaging music soundtrack from regular Ghibli collaborator, Joe Hisaishi comes across in all its enchanting wonder. I watched the original language track with subtitles, and at first glance the subtitles look to be the same as that Australian release, i.e. dubtitles taken from the Streamline dub, closer to the original language, but still comparatively loose in translation. However, this version of the film retains the original film elements throughout. There are no English overlays, which means that the subtitles have had to be updated a little to translate the credits and the odd bit of Japanese text in the film. The opportunity has been seized to make a few corrections in the subtitle text, and I gleefully noticed that Kiki does indeed drink coffee when she first meets Osono, not chocolate as it was originally.
The second bit of good news is that the English dub this time around is from 2010 re-dub from Disney. Gone is that extraneous and intrusive music that they had overlaid over moments of silence, gone are the sound effects that signposted the magic in the film, and gone is that extra dialogue that so altered the end of the film. This English version of Kiki’s Delivery Service is much closer to the Japanese version, and that can only be a good thing.
One oddity is that there are two subtitle streams on this disc, but just like in the previous Blu-ray release of My Neighbour Totoro, both streams are identical, presenting the same subtitle track. This means that those watching the English version without subtitles won’t get the Japanese text translations in the film, or for the credits. It’s an easy matter to flick the subtitles on with the remote.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is presented with an animated slideshow of images from the film against which the menu is displayed. On occasion Jiji on a broomstick will fly across the screen.
Most of the extra features on this release are new to the UK, but familiar to purchasers of the DVD will be the feature length storyboards, here presented in the bottom right corner of the screen via a picture-in-picture option (I prefer the DVD multi-angle approach that allows for full-screen storyboards), 8 minutes worth of original Japanese trailers, and the Ursula’s Painting Featurette (up-scaled to 720p and 2½ minutes), which takes a closer look at the iconic artwork.
There is a lot that is new to this disc, beginning with a whole lot of interviews with the creators of Kiki’s Delivery Service, director Hayao Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki. Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service lasts 2½ minutes, Kiki and Jiji lasts 3½ minutes, Flying With Kiki and Beyond lasts 3 minutes, and Producer’s Perspective: Collaborating With Miyazaki lasts 2 minutes. All are presented in 1080p resolution, and all offer brief insights into the creators and the process of making Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Far more substantial is The Locations of Kiki, which lasts 29 minutes and is presented in 1080i resolution. This is an excerpt from The Scenery In Ghibli documentary (you can see another part of the show on the My Neighbour Totoro disc), and takes us to Sweden to explore the architecture that inspired the city seen in Kiki’s Delivery Service. There’s a lot of Stockholm here.
Behind the Microphone lasts 5 minutes, and is up-scaled from SD to 720p, obviously taken from the US release, and offers a look at the dubbing process of Kiki, with interviews with Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, and Phil Hartman.
Finally there are some Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers, comprising From Up On Poppy Hill, My Neighbour Totoro, Arrietty, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Ponyo.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favourite Miyazaki movie, unless I’m watching Porco Rosso, in which case it’s that one, or maybe it’s Laputa... Look, right now, today, as I write this review, Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favourite Miyazaki movie. It’s just the perfect family animation; warm, entertaining, engaging, enchanting even. It captures the formative years of adolescence without schmaltz or melodrama, instead offering something gentle and realistic, despite the fantastic story. And it can be appreciated by a wide audience, regardless of age.
It’s a gentle coming of age story, as Kiki follows tradition and leaves home to perfect her skills as a witch. The big city in which she decides to settle is large and impersonal, initially daunting, but she rises to the challenge when she meets Osono, the baker. Osono takes a liking to Kiki and she helps her set up her aerial delivery service. In Kiki, Hayao Miyazaki perfectly captures that age when children are becoming adults, where they have boundless confidence, although it is easy to be disheartened, Fortunately for Kiki, with every setback there is also a positive, with the friends she makes and the success she achieves. There are some wonderful characters, most notable Jiji, the sardonic cat who has a comment for every situation. Tombo is the boy Kiki meets, and who is fascinated by flight and not least by Kiki’s broomstick.
As per usual for a Miyazaki film there is a little social commentary, and the representation of the city as an unfriendly entity that lacks community is gently done and understated for the most part. There are no witches in the big city, indeed people are surprised to see Kiki, and find her warm greeting odd in a place where people are used to ignoring each other. When Kiki abilities begin to weaken, it could be because of the impersonal nature of the city, but it could also be her confused feelings for Tombo, or just a lack of confidence. The film never tries to answer the question, leaving it to the viewer to judge.
Hayao Miyazaki’s films have a gentle beauty that is almost heart breaking. They are proof if any is required that magic still exists, wonder can still be experienced and pure unadulterated joy is still possible. Kiki’s Delivery Service doesn’t have any eye-candy, there’s no action, no song or dance moments, and no moments of high drama. It’s a simple, tender and sweet story of a young girl’s adventures and journey of self-discovery.
That Region 4 disc I have, had just one too many niggles for comfort in my opinion, and from what I understand, the previous Optimum release was little different. This Studiocanal Blu-ray release offers a big fix-it for the film that renders almost all my previous criticisms moot. A wholly new subtitle track would have been the icing on the cake, but you will really only notice the occasional looseness of translation if you’ve been watching so much anime in recent years that you begin to hear Japanese in your sleep. For most Kiki fans, the fact that ‘chocolate’ has been changed to ‘coffee’ is correction enough. But the video quality is astounding, and above all consistent, with the English text overlays removed in the film and the credit sequences. Best of all, Disney have re-composited the English dub, removing the intrusive extra music, as well as the extra dialogue The English version of the Kiki’s Delivery Service story is now identical to the Japanese version, which is just as it should be. Another Ghibli movie on HD means another required purchase, which is also just as it should be.