We’ve been seeing a lot of revivals lately, of which The Flower is particularly fond—I think her reasoning is “why see a movie that might be good when you could see one that you know will be good?”—and when Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Kiki’s Delivery Service popped up, she was excited about seeing it on the big screen. (Everything is better on the Big Screen. Period.)
We figured that the print we’d be seeing would be the English-language version, though the one that was re-cut in later years to restore the original Japanese songs (removing Sydney Forrest’s wonderful “I’m Gonna Fly” and “Soaring”), and I had given the kids a little background on the late, lamented Phil Hartman, whose voice work they’re familiar with from such shows as “The Simpsons” and “The Critic”.
But lo-and-behold, it was a Japanese print with subtitles! The Flower has prefers dubs to subs, as noted in Only Yesterday (1991) and The Boy and The Beast, because she’s a visual artist and likes to focus on the art. I’m more aural, so I find dubs distracting. (And The Boy tends to change preferences based on the thing being translated, so now you know the full extent of our dubs-vs-subs wars.)
But you know, it’s a great movie, and so characteristic of Studio Ghibli as to be its own genre. Ghibli is unique among the animation studios I know in making films that don’t feature antagonists to be overcome. The characters generally have personal crises to overcome, some point where they lose their way and have to come back, and Kiki is a great example of this.
The plot is that, at thirteen, a witch is sent away from home to a new town where she must find a trade that suits her. Kiki finds herself in a big beachside city which is rather modern and doesn’t really know from (apparently rather rare) witches, so she ends up quickly lost and forlorn and making a bit of a spectacle of herself. Tides turn for her when she helps a pregnant baker’s wife by whisking a baby’s pacifier to the customer who forgot it, before her baby could wake up and get upset.
The bakers take her on, and she helps with mundane chores around the bakery while living in the upstairs apartment, when she lights upon the idea of making deliveries her stock-in-trade.
This, by the way, is one of my favorite examples of cultural appropriation. Witches in Miyazaki’s world (or perhaps source novelist Eiko Kadono’s world) have no sinister connotations. They wear simple black dresses and have black cat familiars out of tradition. Their potions are beneficial and medicinal. About as nasty as they get is, well, maybe a little snooty, as the first witch Kiki runs into turns her nose up at her (since she’s been out in the world for a whole year or two).
Also, the beachside city is sort of Germanic looking, though most of the scribbling on the buildings is some sort of gothic nonsense, sometimes though it’s in English, and the bakery is perhaps a sort of French stereotype. The people seem post-WWII in customs, though there aren’t cars but there are zeppelins.
It’s truly wonderful and perfect for the story, but the sort of thing Westerners apparently have to take crap for every time they perform the same kind of hashing on any non-Western cultures.
Anyway, it was great to see the subbed version, and to hear the original voices. The cat, of course, had nothing of Phil Hartman’s supercilious baritone, and Kiki didn’t have Kirsten Dunst’s sort of dopey earnestness, so the experience is really rather different in some ways.
It’s definitely worth checking out, if you have the opportunity.