Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

WHO: Hayao Miyazaki directed this.

WHAT: One of the best of the feature film animated at Studio Ghibli (the company name makes a cameo on the side of the bus in the above scene), and the biggest box-office success of all Japanese films released in 1989. Its tale of a young (benevolent) witch in training is one of the most affecting girl-empowerment fables committed to the screen.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Pacific Film Archive at 4:00 PM.

WHY: Starting with last week's screening of Castle In the Sky, the PFA's  Studio Ghibli series brings 35mm prints of the majority of Miyazaki and his cohort's beloved films to Berkeley every Sunday this summer. Most of the screenings will employ Japanese versions of these films, with English subtitles. These versions are widely considered superior by fans, as there's no doubt some of the versions prepared for American release employ distracting dub jobs involving Hollywood celebrities. For me, Princess Mononke is the worst offender of these, and I'm glad the PFA is planning to show the subtitled version instead on July 28; when the film screened at the Bridge last fall the version with Billy Bob Thornton giving his unmistakeable twang to the character Jigo was unfortunately was the one screened.

The four exceptions to the PFA's plan of showing these films with their original soundtracks are Howl's Moving Castle and (in my opinion the least-distracting of the Americanized Ghibli dubs) My Neighbor Totoro, both showing in August, next week's Ponyo (which I don't believe has ever screened on Frisco Bay in an English-subtitled 35mm print), and Kiki's Delivery Service today. This is not one of the best or the worst of the English-dubbed Ghibli versions out there; it may take a while to get used to hearing Phil Hartman voicing Kiki's cat Jiji, but for the most part he does a good job keeping his performance restrained. This familiar may have a familiar voice, but it ought not bring to mind any particular Hartman character from Saturday Night Live or the Simpsons or the rest of his career. There are some changed musical cues on the Americanized soundtrack.

Even these compromised versions are worth seeing on the big screen however. In fact, I think each of them should be seen at least once by any Ghibli fan not fluent in Japanese. When spending portions of time during a film looking at subtitles, even a fast reader can miss some of the detail and even the kineticism of the beautifully animated images, and for me it's usually a very acceptable trade-off to have an "impure" soundtrack experience if I can watch the whole frame for the whole movie. For me, this rule applies to high-quality animation far more than to live-action films, where I really long to hear the voices of the actor I'm seeing on screen. But those who extend their dislike of "dubbing" in cinema to Japanese animation might keep in mind that virtually all animation released in that country is in fact "dubbed"- in Japanese. I've written a bit about this here and here and don't want to repeat myself, but it seems relevant to this discussion.

HOW: 35mm print of the English-dubbed version of Kiki's Delivery Service.


  1. As much as I don't like dubbed versions either, another reasonable argument for dubbed children's films is because some younger children might not have the ability to read fast enough to keep up w/ subtitles if not able to read yet at all.

  2. Indeed. And the PFA is pitching this series this way, offering a free balloon to every child in attendance.