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Robogeek's Report on Miyazaki and KiKi!!!

Greetings, citizen Harry! It is I, Robogeek, funky fresh from my extended excursion into bat country. Goodness gracious, those flying bloodsucking bastards are ruthless! But my attention is now occupied by an earth-bound rodent, one which holds dominion over the works of the living god that is Hayao Miyazaki.

Anyway, Roger Ebert didn't dub me "a web-based expert on anime" for nothing, so here I go!


First off, I have a first-hand report from the US premiere of Disney's new English-dubbed version of Miyazaki's classic 1989 animated feature, "Kiki's Delivery Service," which stars Kirsten Dunst (Kiki), Phil Hartman (Jiji), Matthew Lawrence (Tonbo), Debbie Reynolds (Osono), and Janeane Garofalo (Ursula). I'm very anxious to see what Disney's done with/to one of my all-time favorite films. For those of you who don't this film, it's about the adventures of a 13-year-old witch and her talking cat Jiji. It's a magnificently beautiful coming-of-age film, with an incredibly cool climax that involves... a zeppelin! YES!!! This was the first Miyazaki film I ever saw, and I have an enormous affection for it. Anyway, this review comes to us from Agent Otaku:

Saturday... Seattle International Film Festival... Egyptian Theater. A Disney guy was there to intro the film, and I assume to gather feedback. According to him the release will be September of this year. The print we saw wasn't complete, the Disney rep said they are still working to rip the kanji credits out and put English ones in. This got a bad response from the audience and he said they were considering leaving the credits and just doing subtitles on this part (this got wild cheers from the crowd). Pass the word on and hopefully we can get enough response to get it left in. It has been awhile since I have seen "Kiki's" but I think Disney changed the opening song to English? (If so I wish they had left the original song like Fox did with Totoro.) Overall the voices fit pretty good and the dubbing was done well.

ROBOGEEK BACK HERE -- I've heard from several other people who've seen the film, and this seems to be pretty indicative of their response, which has been quite positive. The screening was met with an enthusiastic audience with lots of appropriate laughing throughout the film, and applause at the end. Granted, there have been a few random quibbles (someone thought that the "laughing" in the film is dubbed awkwardly, and seems "self-conscious"), and relative to other anime dubs, the consensus seems to be that while this falls a tad short of the Fox "Totoro," it's still very good. The voice actors get high marks (Dunst, Reynolds and Garafalo in particular, it seems), though Phil Hartman's performance seems to have generated split opinions. Some people (like Agent Otaku) didn't like his take on Jiji the cat (which is apparently quite different than the original Japanese actor's), while others found that his approach worked quite well. (Personally, I'm a big fan of Hartman's, and was absolutely devastated to hear about his death today.) The film itself is intact but some liberties have been taken with the script, to "Americanize" it for the domestic mainstream sensibility. However, there seems to be one MAJOR problem with Disney's version of the film -- the music.

First off, the songs: Now, I was really hoping Disney would get an artist like Sarah McLachlan, Lisa Loeb, Vonda Shepard or Dar Williams to "cover" the opening and end credits songs. That would have been incredilbly cool, as these songs are great. But they didn't do that. Alas...

Then there's the score. Miyazaki's films are some of the best scored films in the history of cinema, thanks to the genius of composer Joe Hisaishi. To muck up a perfect score is simply unconscionable. But that's what Disney has done. While most of the score is apparently intact, some key scenes have been rescored "cheaply" according to more than one reviewer -- and most of the film's beautiful quiet moments have now been filled with intrusive and inappropriate scoring, that jars against the original. Apparently Disney doesn't think the film will hold a child's attention if it ever has a quiet moment. Baka! One reviewer (Jennifer D. Reitz of reported that much of the original score has been replaced "with weak piano versions of 'Hall of the Mountain King'" and that "poor and sappy songs replace the catchy tunes on Kiki's ubiquitous transistor radio." Ugh.

Hear my words: this is a crime against humanity. This is "Kiki," dammit! Don't screw around with my Kiki, you bastards! My mechanized fury will hunt you down and make you pay! Restore the original score NOW.

Sorry. I lost my head. But hey, I'm a little touchy about these things. This is "Kiki," dammit! Anyway...

"Kiki's" is slated to be released on video by BVHE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) on September 1st on VHS and LD. Apparently, rights to a DVD version have yet to be negotiated, as it wasn't a part of the original Tokuma/Disney distribution pact. A subtitled video release of "Kiki's" is currently being "considered," according to a source within Disney, as "there seems to be interest," but no decision has yet been made. All I can say is DO IT! Ideally, this could be done as a combo subbed/dubbed DVD -- with the soundtrack encoded, natch, since there are no plans for a domestic soundtrack release. But a subtitled VHS is still, I think, a must. Trust me, the market for a subtitled version is there in a _big_ way.

Promos for "Kiki's" are now being tagged on Disney/BVHE video releases (like "The Brave Littel Toaster Goes To Mars," for instance). There had been early reports that Disney was going to air "Kiki's" on ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney" prior to the video release, but I have been assured by reliable sources that there are currently no plans yet to do so -- though I would expect it to air eventually after the video release. That'll be a historic occasion.

Meanwhile, Disney's dubbed "Kiki's" will next be screened at the Nashville Independent Film Festival ( at 10am on both Thursday, June 11, and Saturday, June 13. It will also screen around the same time at the Florida International Film Festival. Apparently, Disney is going to try and get "Kiki's" into a bunch of domenstic film festivals over the summer to build word of mouth for the film in anticipation of the video release -- smart thinking, in my book. In fact, Disney may continue to let it play festivals even beyond its release on video, which would be great (and may mean we'll get it on a double bill with "Castle in the Sky" when that starts making the fest rounds Sep./Oct. -- see below) And while "a limited theatrical release other than fests is technically feasable," according to a source at Disney, the powers-that-be "haven't pursued it yet."

Personally, I think Disney should bite the bullet and put this puppy out in theaters in August. They could stick trailers in front of "Mulan." And it's a fantastic film. Heck, I'd even be happy to see a limited "art house" release of the subtitled version; I think it'd do well in, say, the top 25-50 markets. There's a major market for anime in the U.S., just waiting to be tapped -- an audience of animation aficianados who haven't gone to see a Disney film since "The Lion King," and kids who fell in love with "Beauty and the Beast" and are now in high school and college.

In addition, I think Disney ought to tap the web as a promotional tool to spread the word among the anime community that'll camp out in front of video stores for this video release. Do you know how many years we've waited for the chance to buy these films legally _and_ domestically?

I just _pray_ that Disney takes the opportunity to fix the music. As far as I'm concerned, any change to the score violates the artistic integrity of the film. 'Nuff said.


Now, a quick status report on "Princess Mononoke," which won the Japanese equivalent of the Oscar earlier this year while raking in over $150 million (and was the #1 movie of all time in Japan -- until "Titanic" topped it last week), and may be the greatest animated film ever made. It now looks like "Mononoke" will be released next spring by Disney through Miramax's Dimension Films (which I hear is going to go after a PG-13 rating hard, and will fight an R).

Originally, "Mononoke" was tentatively slated for a spring '98 release, which was then moved to late July as the film's strong potential became clear, and they decided not to rush its release. However, Disney quickly realized that at least on the surface, "Mononoke" is too similar to "Mulan," Disney's release for this summer (both are medieval Asian adventure epics featuring a female title character -- what are the odds?), and didn't want them competing -- especially since virtually all reports indicate "Mononoke" is superior to the excellent "Mulan." A winter '98 release was then considered, but that would collide with the video release of "Mulan" -- no dice. Which pushes us back to next spring, and almost two years after its original Japanese release.

Meanwhile, "Mononoke" will be released on video in Japan on June 26th (4,500 yen tape, 7,800 yen LD), when it'll break all Japanese video sales records. Concurrently, a three-volume "Making of" documentary will be released, as well.

(Oh, and if you're in Germany, you can see the German-subtitled "Mononoke" at the Comic-Con in Erlangen at 8:30 pm on both June 11th and June 13th.)

The coolest news to crop up in recent months is that Neil ("Sandman," "Neverwhere") Gaiman was personally tapped by Harvey Weinstein to polish/re-write the script translation (this was even published on Miramax's web site). Meanwhile, the powers-that-be are going after A-list names for the dubbed version. (For instance, it's been widely reported that they've approached Leonardo DiCaprio to voice Ashitaka and Claire Danes to voice San -- but nothing's officially been announced yet.)

If you want to find out more about "Mononoke," use the AICN search engine to find my previous report, or go visit the excellent


And what about the rest of the Miyazaki films that Disney now has distribution rights for? Well, next up will be "Castle in the Sky," which is a film I just love. (It's a captivating adventure that takes a page from "Gulliver's Travels," and is chock-full of coolness.) The first thing Disney did was drop "Laputa" from the title, given its, uh..., unfortunate Spanish translation. Next, Disney is looking to take it on the domestic film festival circuit starting in September or October (Austin Film Fest organizers please take note). In fact, there is even some possibility that "Kiki's" and "Castle" will make the fest rounds together, which would be metaphysical bliss.

As for theatrical and video releases, well, that's all up in the air until Disney sees how "Kiki's" performs. Currently, there's no plan for a theatrical "Castle" release, and a domestic video release is scheduled for sometime next year. The English dub has apparently been completed, but the voice cast has yet to be announced -- partially due to the fact that the dubbed version has yet to receive the final stamp of approval from the powers-that-be.

After that, plans will be made for the rest of Miyazaki's films, namely "Porco Rosso" ("The Crimson Pig," an awesome period adventure about a WWI Italian flying ace who is turned into a pig -- just don't ask why), "My Neighbor Totoro" (about a giant bunny rabbit, among other things -- which was actually dubbed quite nicely by Fox not so many years ago and had a small, well-received domestic release; it's still available on video), and "Nausicaa," Miyazaki's breathtaking breakthrough fantasy adventure from 14 years ago.

Collectively, these six films represent one of the most significant bodies of work in animated filmmaking, and rank among my favorite and most revered films of all time. I only pray that Disney fully comprehends the treasure trove they've been entrusted with, and that they give them the respect they deserve. So far, I'm encouraged.

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to go watch "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" again. Gotta motor.

- Robogeek

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