Adaptation Adventure

A Blu-ray Review in 30 Minutes or Less: Kiki's Delivery Service

December 1, 2014Ben Mk


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Hex and the city...

Like it or not, witches have gotten a bad rap. That is, until a little show called Bewitched came along, completely changing our perception of characters who practice "the craft". Ever since then, "good witches" have been popping up left, right and center in TV and movies. But before there was Sabrina Spellman, Willow Rosenberg or the Halliwell Sisters, there was Kiki, in writer/director Hayao Miyazaki's disarming 1989 followup to his wildly successful My Neighbor Totoro, which tells the story of a small-town witch, her adventures in the big city and her unorthodox delivery service.

   

The Film Based on the book Majo no Takkyūbin by Eiko Kadono, the story of Kiki's Delivery Service is simple: Kiki (Minami Takayama/Kirsten Dunst) has just turned 13, and, as is customary among witches, that means she must bid goodbye to her family and strike out on her own for a year, to learn more about herself and her powers. The very thought might make some girls nervous, but not Kiki, who's brimming with enthusiasm and anxious to explore the world beyond the borders of her hometown.

With her ever-faithful but oh-so-cautious black cat, Jiji (Rei Sakuma/Phil Hartman), by her side, Kiki takes her first steps into the unknown, setting her sights on the seaside city of Koriko, where she discovers that it isn't so easy for a witch to win the hearts of strangers.

She does manage to make a few friends, however. Namely, Tombo (Kappei Yamaguchi/Matthew Lawrence), a rambunctious teenage boy with a penchant for aerial invention; Ursula (Minami Takayama/Janeane Garofalo), a passionate artist who prefers the tranquility of nature to the hustle and bustle of big city life; and Osono (Keiko Toda/Tress MacNeille), a kindly baker who offers Kiki room and board above her bakery. With a little help from each of them, Kiki is able to get her delivery service off the ground and sets about trying to make a good impression on the citizens of Koriko, one customer at a time.

Compared to some of Miyazaki's more nuanced works, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Kiki's story is unmistakably lightweight. But rest assured, for whatever it lacks in thematic density it more than makes up for in charm.

From the architectural look of Koriko — a blend of real-world cities such as Ireland, Stockholm, Visby, San Francisco, Paris and Italy — to the character designs themselves, the film and its simplistic story of a girl trying to overcome her own insecurities could have easily been another throwaway piece of animation, but Miyazaki ensures it's just as memorable as anything else he's done.

That extends to the voice work as well, as both the English voice cast and the original Japanese actors do a fantastic job at conveying the subtlety and emotion in their characters' words. That goes double for the English actors, because as any fan of Japanese animation knows, English dubs can be especially hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Luckily, just as with the stateside releases of Miyazaki's other films, Kiki's Delivery Service is blessed with a game cast, which also includes Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and Ferris Bueller's Day Off's Edie McClurg.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Kiki's Delivery Service arrives on Blu-ray in North America twenty-five years after its Japanese theatrical debut, and it's safe to say the film has never looked better, with a beautiful A/V presentation that's nothing short of a treat for the eyes and ears of animation fans. From Koriko's pastel hues to Kiki's red bow, colors are bright and bold, exhibiting zero signs of bleeding, banding or macroblocking; likewise, line art is sharp, accentuated by deep blacks and strong contrast levels; and the whole hi-def image comes together with a subtle layer of grain, giving the picture an appreciable sense of texture. To top it all off, the disc features both Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtracks (plus optional subtitles), perfectly recreating the film's original theatrical sound mix, from the dialogue and sound effects to composer Joe Hisaishi's whimsical score and Yumi Arai's theme songs, "Rouge no Dengon" and "Yasashisa ni Tsutsumaretanara".

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as nearly 3 hours of bonus features, kicking off with Ursula's Painting, a 3-minute look at the painting shown in the film, titled "Ship Flying Over the Rainbow". The rest of the bonus features can be found under the heading Original DVD Bonus Features. Here, viewers will find a pleasant surprise, as most of these extras have been upgraded to high-definition, with the only exceptions being a 1-minute Introduction By John Lasseter (in which the Toy Story director briefly touches on the story) and the 5-minute Behind The Microphone (in which the English voice cast sum up their characters, accompanied by behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film).

Otherwise, we get 103 minutes of Original Japanese Storyboards (which is actually the entire film presented in storyboard form, with Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio) and 8 minutes of Original Japanese Trailers (consisting one TV spot and four trailers), followed by a number of relatively brief featurettes. Several of these are comprised of interviews with director Hayao Miyazaki or producer Toshio Suzuki (including the 2-minute Creating Kiki's Delivery Service, the 3-minute Kiki & Jiji, the 3-minute Flying With Kiki & Beyond and the 2-minute Producer's Perspective: Collaborating With Miyazaki), in which we get an overview of such topics as the film's origins, its timeless aesthetic and the story behind its two main characters. There's also a 29-minute excerpt from a documentary called The Scenery in Ghibli, titled The Locations of Kiki, which profiles two of the real-life inspirations for the city of Koriko, Sweden's Stockholm and Visby; and the 7-minute Scoring Miyazaki, in which composer Joe Hisaishi talks about his work scoring not just Kiki's Delivery Service, but also My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Ponyo.


The Bottom Line Make no mistake about it, Kiki's Delivery Service may not typically be mentioned in the same breath as Howl's Moving Castle or Grave of the Fireflies, but the film is simple, sweet, charming fun, with an art style that lives up to the other movies in Miyazaki's repertoire and voice casting that's perfect for the nature of the storytelling. It's especially ideal as an entry point for younger moviegoers who may not be familiar with the director's work but who may be wondering what all the fuss is about. And with top-tier audio and video, not to mention a slew of fun and insightful bonus features, Disney's Blu-ray release may not officially be called a "25th Anniversary Edition", but it's just as impressive.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  








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