Kiki’s Delivery Service, an extremely popular children’s animated feature created by Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki in 1989, is due to be released in English for North American video sell-through in September by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Dubbed versions will roll out worldwide later in the year.
The release of Kiki is the second installment in a worldwide distribution deal signed in 1996 between The Walt Disney Company and Tokuma Shoten Publishing for Miyazaki’s nine-title library. The first property to be released under the deal was the adult-oriented animated feature film Princess Mononoke, which was distributed theatrically last year by Disney’s Miramax unit.
The top-grossing domestic film in Japan in 1989, Kiki’s Delivery Service centers on the coming of age of a teenaged witch who must leave home and serve the community in order to preserve her magical skills. Set in an oceanside village that resembles old world Europe, the story espouses the values of independence and self-reliance.
‘It’s a wonderful story for young girls,’ says Michael Johnson, president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment Worldwide, who adds that test screenings of Kiki have been particularly well received by girls age six to 14.
Permitting that the works to come out of Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli appeal to a more divergent audience demographic than that traditionally associated with Disney properties, Johnson says Buena Vista viewed the distribution deal ‘as a way to enhance our product line and create a relationship with somebody who is a real powerhouse in Japan.’
Miyazaki, a pioneer of Japanese anime who is often compared favorably to Walt Disney himself, does not display as darkly violent and overtly sexual themes in his work as do his national counterparts. Still, Buena Vista is doing its best to form a line of distinction between Miyazaki’s and other forms of anime, which in one extreme case has been blamed for causing children to experience convulsions.
‘You’ll never hear the word `anime’ attached to Miyazaki’s stuff around here,’ says Johnson, adding that Kiki ‘has a much deeper texture to it, a higher visual quality; it’s much brighter than most anime. Frankly, it’s more like Disney than any other type of Japanese animation.’
Although Disney has promised to maintain the English adaptations of Miyazaki’s work as true to the originals as possible, Kiki has been ‘localized’ for North American audiences through the addition of English voices and an expanded musical score, according to Johnson.
The English voice of Kiki was provided by Kirsten Dunst, who starred in Jumanji and Interview With the Vampire, while other voice talent included Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman and Debbie Reynolds.
Admitting to having a strong personal appreciation for Miyazaki’s work, Johnson says he thinks there will be a healthy worldwide demand for Kiki in the video sell-through market. ‘It’s not going to sell 10 million units,’ he proffers, ‘but I’d be happy with half of that. A good story is a good story. So the opportunity for it to travel might be a little wider than anyone ever expected.
‘We’re going to use festivals to build up the Miyazaki name. We’re looking at cross-character merchandising, and there may be some broadcast potential for it within The Walt Disney Company, although we’re not positive yet whether it will be on the Disney Channel or on ABC,’ he says.
As for how merchandising will shape up for Kiki, Johnson says discussions have been limited to the publishing area so far. ‘We’ll probably have to establish the film and the character first, and then the consumer products will come in behind it,’ he says.