A Disney package deal brings the first of nine animated national treasures from Japan to video
The cassette box may make it look like just another kiddie cartoon, but if you see Kiki’s Delivery Service (1998, Buena Vista, G) at the video store, pounce. Beyond that innocent cover lies not only an extraordinary film but the culmination of a five-year saga in which Walt Disney has endeavored to bring the work of reclusive animator Hayao Miyazaki (known to some, ironically, as the Walt Disney of Japan) to U.S. audiences.
To date, only two of Miyazaki’s painstakingly crafted films have been theatrically released in English: 1984’s Warriors of the Wind was a butchered version of his 1984 breakthrough, Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, and while the 1993 U.S. release of My Neighbor Totoro (1988) was well dubbed, Miyazaki was still reportedly unhappy with the results.
On the basis of Kiki, the first, and most family-friendly, of the films to hit tape as part of this new deal, Miyazaki can rest easy. Far from rushing out a quickie dubbed version, Disney enlisted the vocal talents of Kirsten Dunst (as the winsome teenage witch of the title), Janeane Garofalo, Debbie Reynolds, and, in one of his last roles, Phil Hartman as Kiki’s feline companion, Jiji.
The next film to see tape here will be Castle in the Sky (1986), a far more ambitious fusing of action and mythology. And Princess Mononoke, the 1997 Miyazaki feature that was Japan’s all-time top-grossing film until Titanic came along, will get a U.S. theatrical release in 1999 and feature the voices of Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, and Minnie Driver. Only one question remains: Are American audiences ready for films that, as the director once said in a rare interview, try to express the idea that ”the world is profound, manifold, and beautiful”?