Taiwan Exploration Day 2: Houtong Cat Village, Shifen Old Street, Jiufen Old Street and Raohe Night Market

Our second day was spent exploring places that tourists most likely visit in Taiwan. The itinerary for this day trip took a while to complete. I always take into consideration the cost of getting there and the number of hours we have to spend travelling to get there. Taiwan currently has three train services: Taiwan Rail (TRA), Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and the Taipei Metro (for going around Taipei). There are a lot of sources like vlogs on Youtube and travel blogs that can help you plan a day trip to Shifen and Jiufen, but some of them were written or made during the time Easy Cards were still not accepted by the TRA. All the how-to-buy guides just didn’t make sense to me. I also read about the Pingxi Line One Day Pass as well, but when we arrived the TRA ticketing station the night before, it’s already closed. We tried reaching out to TRA office personnel, but it was hard because they don’t speak English. It took a while before it came to us that we can use our Easy Card in the TRA. Thanks to the patience of both parties. TRA management could treat this an opportunity to put up English Translated Guidelines for tourists since an English speaking personnel is not available.

Look for Platform 4 of TRA headed to Su Ao

Important: Time tables in train stations are very accurate. Also, asking for correct platforms will save you time. Best ask train personnel in uniform for this info. Not all of them can speak English but you can tell them where you’re headed and they will help you find the right platform.

From Taipei Main Station, we rode the TRA to Houtong Station where Day 2 began with our quick visit to Houtong Cat Village.

Further reading: Houtong Cat Village

This is a legit village where residents know most of the cats. Litter boxes are present in certain areas of the station. Most of the shops are still close when we arrive around 9 am, maybe the best time to start is around 10 am. So we turned to their cat-themed 7-eleven for breakfast, where walls have cat designs on them while outside they have a Houtong exclusive photo booth for customers/visitors.

Inside the Vision Hall or their Tourist Information Center is an exhibit of the former coal mining town before it closed in the 90’s. Close by is the Village Cat Cafe slash souvenir shop where cat themed stuff and postcards are being sold. Prices range from 20-300NT$. If you have more time to spare, you can sign up for a tour and explore their Houtong Coal Mine Ecological Park.

The visit to Houtong Cat Village was not very long because we have to move to Shifen Old Street. To get there, we rode the train that took us to Shifen Station. Shifen is only three stations away from Houtong but the TRA travels at a slower speed compared to other train lines. One can just take advantage of the time viewing sceneries from the train window. I can’t believe Taipei still have places like these despite being so modern. We were standing the whole time on our way to Shifen. It seems to me that we are all going to the same place. It was lunchtime by the time we arrived. The moment these people got off the train, most of them were scurrying to find a place to eat.

Further reading: Shifen Waterfalls

Shifen Waterfalls is more than a kilometer walk from Shifen Station and I don’t think there are other ways to get there if you’re not signed up for a tour. Just keep walking and let google map guide you through. You might see a much smaller waterfalls along the way so let me tell you this: It’s not Shifen Waterfalls. You have to pass by a number of suspension bridges before getting to the Shifen Scenic Area and the Shifen Waterfalls. More nature appreciation and sightseeing opportunities coming up.

Now this is what we came here for. Others say that the best time to visit is when there’s rain, but for me the timing is perfect as it is. The feel of the mist coming towards me while I stood there was surreal enough. The selfie I took was terrible, so I decided not to post. I’ll share with all of you instead a shot that has captured the rainbow effect. I can just stand here for hours staring at the raging waters… but it’s a long walk back to Shifen Station and we are on a tight schedule. We have be in Jiufen before 4 pm for our reservation at A-mei’s Tea House.

Following the same path, we headed back to Shifen Station. We skipped Jing’an Suspension Bridge on our way back though. Shifen Old Street will wait for me to come back, I know. So much to see and discover here!

There are two ways to get to Jiufen Old Street from Shifen Old Street (if not signed up for tours): ride a cab or transfer to Ruifang Station and then take the bus from there. I believe the TRA is very reliable and much affordable compared to taxis so we hopped on the train back to Ruifang and took the bus going to Jiufen. You won’t get lost in Ruifang as there are a lot of signs that can help you find the right bus stop. From this point on I’d like to express how much I love Taiwan’s transport system because buses and trains come on time. In case of delays, time tables will let you know as well.

Tip: If you’re in Taipei City proper and you want to visit Jiufen, you may ride the express Bus 965 near Taipei Main Station to save time.

Jiufen Old Street is popular among Studio Ghibli fans because it is closely linked to the film Spirited Away. Some say Hayao Miyazaki used this town as reference for his Oscar winning movie, but he says similar places like it exists in other parts of the world. There are a lot of arguments online regarding this topic, but coincidence or not it seems the town has already embraced the Spirited Away thing to further strengthen its tourism.

Further reading: Jiufen

Since we haven’t eaten any lunch, first thing we did in Jiufen was find a place to eat. Close to the entrance of Jiufen Old Street is a stall selling Taro Balls. I don’t know the name of this store but I hope the photos will make it recognizable. They sell Taro Balls (hot or iced) at 50 NT$. Got one iced with pearl barley and it felt like a complete meal. Maybe the hot version is also nice but for us who were walking the whole time, the cold version is satisfying.

Grandma Lai’s Taro Balls is also famous here in Jiufen

A-Zhu’s Peanut Ice Cream Roll is one famous stalls in Jiufen. You can watch a lot of vlogs about it on social media. One peanut roll costs 40 NT$. It’s made with peanut brittle shavings topped with Taro ice cream and then wrapped with something we call “lumpia wrapper” in the Philippines. You also have the option of adding some cilantro to it. The Taro “ice cream” has an icy texture rather than creamy so I think they should call it “sorbet” instead. I didn’t become a fan of this peanut roll because I’ve been paranoid the wrapper might bring me indigestion.

That day might be one of Jiufen‘s busiest days. When we arrived outside A-mei Tea House, we just sat there and waited for our accommodation because it was packed with tourists wanting to witness this spectacle similar to a scene from Spirited Away. If you are a fan, I’m sure you won’t miss the chance of having a photo with A-mei Tea House as your background. It was quite a moment for me as well, to stand there imagining Chihiro and Haku and Yubaba’s bath house. Probably the same for a lot of other Japanese tourists climbing up the Jiufen Tea House just to get a good view for their selfies. I am not exaggerating.

Further reading: A-mei’s Tea House

The highlight of our Day 2 is totally A-mei Tea House. To experience this, I bought vouchers from Klook to spare us from the hassle of lining up. Besides, you come to a tea house to have tea, right? If you book for this experience from Klook, you can easily choose from their sets which includes tea and snacks that go with it. Minimum of two vouchers per transaction for this so I guess solo travellers will have to line up to get in.

Set: Tea plum, Milk plum, Sesame flakes, Brown Sugar Mochi, Mung Bean Cake and High Mountain Oolong Tea

A complimentary postcard from A-mei Tea House is also included in the set. When I entered a bookstore in Xinyi District, I saw one and was surprised that it costs around 80 NT$ per piece. So please take care of your postcards if you get one.

A-mei Tea House staff knows how to speak several languages so it will be easy to communicate with them. Be prepared to listen to a set of instructions how to prepare the tea, how much of the tea you should brew, how many seconds you should let the tea sit and for facts about the tea you are about to drink. They say all of these things quickly so better ready those ears. Hot water is unlimited and staff make rounds to check if you have enough. We stayed until the red lanterns were lit but the number of people outside doubled since we arrived, plus it’s getting late and we really have to leave so I let it go. I just had my photo taken by the entrance instead. Can you imagine how we went past all these people so we could go back up?

We explored the area a little bit more before heading out to Raohe St. Night Market. I wish we had more time and also money to try more food! Though Jiufen is more like a shopping place than a food market, there are a lot of food stalls and small restaurants here that I wasn’t able to see anywhere else.

Commonly, travellers hit up Keelung Night Market right after visits to Shifen and Jiufen but it’s getting late and travel time to Keelung from Jiufen is almost two hours by bus. So I chose another night market closer to our hostel in the Zhongzheng District. Raohe Street Night Market is pretty popular in Songshan and among food vloggers/bloggers who have been to Taipei.

Look for Bus 1062 heading to Songshan
Raohe St. Night Market

Time for dinner when we reached Raohe St. Night Market so we sat down and decided to order this thick seafood soup after seeing it from that huge steaming pot. Sorry, forgot to list down the price.

Before our phones and my camera ran out of batteries, we were still able to take pictures of food and stalls we saw as we looked around. Sure, there are lots of good food in night markets and with all that food around you it’s quite hard to choose which one appeals to you the most. As much as we want to try them all, I still had some restrictions like seafood and super oily food. Watched a couple of vlogs about night market food while doing my research and I conclude that Taiwanese and tourists alike here in Taipei seems to be fond of fried food otherwise there will be limited stalls here that sell them.

We tried some of these fried dumplings commonly found in night markets and are uniformly priced at 40-50 NT$. Bottom parts are fried while inside it remains soft and juicy. Spicy sauce is always the best choice.

Fried Dumplings

I cannot resist the call of milk tea after all the food we had. Ordered a drink at ONECA but instead of milk tea, I bought matcha coffee. Not sure if we have this variation in milk tea shops across Manila but it’s my first time trying such combination. ONECA is new in Taiwan and currently expanding, with a plans to have branches in Taichung, Kaohsiung as well as Taipei 101. Can’t wait for them to reach Manila too.

Matcha Coffee with pearls

Before heading home, this Japanese style okonomiyaki has come to our attention so we lined up and gave it a try. It has egg, strips of bacon, mayo and bonito flakes on top and prepared very nicely by these hardworking guys. Their stall isn’t hard to locate: Just look for that yellow sign and a long queue of people waiting to be served.

That is all for Day 2. On my next post, I will share with you our adventures in Maokong Village and the Xinyi District.

Review: Ponyo [On the Cliff by the Sea] (2008)

PonyoRomantization: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki
Story by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (voice):     Yuria Nara as Ponyo
                               Hiroki Doi as Sosuke
                               Tomoko Yamaguchi as Risa
                               George Tokoro as Fujimoto
                               Kazushige Nagashima as Koichi
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography: Atsushi Okui
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Distributed by: Toho (Japan)
                         Walt Disney Pictures (North America)
Release date(s): July 19, 2008
                           August 14, 2009 (United States)
Running time: 101 minutes

Synopsis (wikipedia):

Brunhilde is a fish-girl who lives in an aquarium with her father Fujimoto, a wizard, in his underwater castle with numerous smaller sisters. One day, when her father takes her and her siblings on an outing in his four-flippered submarine, Brunhilde is driven by a desire to see even more of the world and floats away on the back of a jellyfish. She ends up stranded on the shore of a small fishing town and is rescued by a boy named Sōsuke, who cuts his finger in the process. She licks his wound when he picks her up, and the wound heals almost instantly. After taking a great liking to her, Sōsuke names her Ponyo and promises to protect her forever. Meanwhile, Fujimoto is looking for his daughter. Upset that she ran away, he believes the humans have now kidnapped her, and he calls his wave spirits to return Ponyo to him. After the wave spirits take Ponyo away, Sōsuke is heartbroken and goes home with his mother, Lisa, who tries to cheer him up, to no avail.

Ponyo and Fujimoto have a confrontation, during which Ponyo refuses to let her father call her by her birthname, “Brunhilde.” She declares her name to be Ponyo and voices her desire to become human, because she has started to fall in love with Sōsuke. Suddenly she starts to grow legs and turn into a human, a consequence of the human blood she swallowed when she licked Sōsuke’s finger. Her father turns her back with difficulty and goes to summon Ponyo’s mother, Granmamare. Meanwhile, Ponyo, with the help of her sisters, breaks away from her father and releases his magic to make herself human. The huge amount of magic released into the ocean causes an imbalance in the world, resulting in a huge tsunami. Riding on the waves of the storm, Ponyo goes back to visit Sōsuke. Lisa, Sōsuke, and Ponyo wait out the storm at Sōsuke’s house, and the next morning Lisa leaves to check up on the residents of the nursing home where she works.

Granmamare arrives at Fujimoto’s submarine. On her way there, Sōsuke’s father sees and recognizes her as the Goddess of Mercy. Fujimoto notices the moon has come out of its orbit and satellites are falling like shooting stars. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored. If he fails, Ponyo will turn into sea foam. Sōsuke and Ponyo wake up to find that most of the land around the house has been covered by the ocean. Lisa has not come home yet, so with the help of Ponyo’s magic, they make Sōsuke’s toy boat life-size and set out to find Lisa.

While traveling, they see prehistoric fish swimming beneath them. After landing and finding Lisa’s empty car, Ponyo and Sōsuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and reverts into a fish. Sōsuke and Ponyo are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they are reunited with Lisa and meet Granmamare, both of whom have just had a long private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke replies that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then allows Ponyo to become human once Sōsuke kisses her on the surface. The film ends with Ponyo jumping up and kissing Sosuke, transforming into a little girl in mid-air.

I Say…

Little Mermaid being my favorite fairy tale of all time, and an avid follower of Ghibli films as well, made me curious about Ponyo when I first saw it. I was awed by the abstracts of the film and wondered how Hayao Miyazaki-san pictures the sea inside his head. The first few moments of the film was delegated to describe Ponyo’s home and surroundings before she meets Sosuke. If that isn’t convincing enough, how about the tsunami scenes. They’re just… wow. Miyazaki-san is a genius.

 

The film was based on H.C.Andersen’s The Little Mermaid… minus the sad ending. Ponyo is just the one of the cutest Ghibli characters! Count Sosuke in as well. These two five year olds sure know how to get serious. I think they’re the youngest Ghibli love teams. The parents of Ponyo too, most especially Fujimoto, are both very serious characters. Fujimoto masked his protective feelings towards his daughter by acting up like a villain, when all he ever wanted is to make sure his daughter will not turn into bubbles in case Sosuke is not the right man (they are that serious!) for Ponyo. In the original story by H.C. Andersen, the mermaid turned into sea foam after refusing to kill the prince she loved so dearly who didn’t love her back.

Kids and kids at heart are sure to enjoy this flick, and will be thrilled of Ponyo’s adventure from being goldfish to a human girl. Dive into the signature Miyazaki-san’s abstract imagination. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea will be added on my list of memorable Ghibli movies ever made.

End

Review: From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)

Kokurikozaka_kara_film_poster

Directed by: Gorō Miyazaki
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa
Based on: Kokuriko-zaka kara by Chizuru Takahashi & Tetsurō Sayama
Starring (Voice): Masami Nagasawa as Umi Matsuzaki
                            Junichi Okada as Shun Kazama
Music by: Satoshi Takebe
Cinematography: Atsushi Okui
Studio:    Studio Ghibli
Distributed by: Toho (Japan)
                         Walt Disney Pictures        
                         StudioCanal (UK)
Release date(s): July 16, 2011
                           March 2013 (USA)
Running time: 91 minutes

Plot (Wikipedia):
Umi, a 16-year old girl, lives in Kokuriko (from coquelicot, French for Papaver rhoeas) Manor, a house that overlooks Yokohama harbour. Every morning, Umi raises a set of signal flags with the message “I pray for safe voyages”. The identity of the person raising the flags arouses much local interest, and a poem about her is published in a school newspaper. The author of this poem, Shun, always sees this flag from the sea as he rides a tugboat to school.

Umi and Shun first meet when Shun decides to participate in a daredevil stunt for the school newspaper, leaving Umi with a negative first impression of Shun. They meet again when Umi accompanies her younger sister to obtain Shun’s autograph at the Quartier Latin, the building housing many of their high school’s clubs and societies. Shun is revealed to be a member of the Culture Club, which is responsible for the publication of the school newspaper. Umi winds up joining the club when she learns that they need a new typesetter because Shun has recently injured his hand in a scuffle with a cat.

At Umi’s suggestion, many students work hard volunteering to restore the Quartier Latin to its former glory. During the cleanup, Umi gets to know Shun better and starts to develop feelings for him. When Umi shows him a photograph of her father, Shun begins distancing himself from her because he secretly has the same photograph and believes they may be half-siblings. Umi is hurt by Shun’s response, though he eventually reveals the shocking fact to her.

After a great deal of effort, the students complete their cleanup of the Quartier Latin, but are disappointed that their efforts may be wasted when Tokumara, a prominent businessman and sponsor of the school, intends to tear down the building to make way for redevelopment. In order to stop the demolition, the students nominate Shun, Umi, and Shirō to go to Tokyo to persuade Tokumara to change his mind. After Tokumura agrees to inspect the Quartier Latin, the group separates before going back to Kokuriko. While Umi and Shun wait for a train together, Umi confesses her love to him. Shun reciprocates her feelings.
When Umi’s mother returns from America, Umi learns that she is not biologically related to Shun. Her mother reveals that Umi’s father registered Shun as his own child when he put Shun up for adoption after Shun’s father had died fighting in the Korean War. Since her mother was pregnant and they could not afford to adopt Shun, Shun was given away to a couple who had just lost their child – Shun’s current adopted parents.

Shun, Umi, and Shirō are initially forced to wait a long time before meeting Tokumara in hopes they would give up and leave. Their persistence wins out and Tokumara agrees to visit the Quartier Latin the following afternoon. Impressed by the students’ hard work restoring the building, he agrees to abandon his plans for redevelopment.

Meanwhile, Umi and Shun meet a ship captain who was familiar with their fathers. He confirms that they are not related by blood and shares the story of Umi and Shun’s fathers and his relationship with both of them.

With everything resolved, Umi happily resumes her duty of raising the flags every morning.

I Say…

What to expect from any Ghibli film?

It is fast-paced and anything may happen before it ends. Still holds true for their 2011 flick, From Up On Poppy Hill. This is actually a clean, teen melodrama any parent can let their kids watch without supervision. I cannot see any indication of parental guidance for this film.

Shun and Umi almost made me cry! Any viewer will surely feel that way as soon as the conflict is revealed. You wouldn’t want to miss a scene even though it’s heartbreaking enough to turn off. I am a sucker for melodramas… and I love how the conflict of their story was executed. It sure is a good one.

I’ve seen almost all the Ghibli films in the past, where they emphasize greatly on each setting and each detail of their background. The Quarter Latin almost reminded me of Howl’s castle… an old, clutter-filled space.

from-up-on-poppy-hill-testo            From-Up-on-Poppy-Hill-2011-Movie-Image

My favorite scene was when Shun passed by and saw Umi headed for the market to buy some meat… then Ryu Sakamoto’s Ue o Muite Arukō started to play. It’s just one of the old Japanese pop songs I am familiar with. Google-ing a bit more, this insert song became famous the same year as the story’s timeline. I think it was a very popular song during that time. With that mentioned, the movie also have an excellent soundtrack worth listening to.

If you happen to be in melodrama mood and love animated movies, this will surely make it to your list of to-watch-again movies… because I think I will do so in a bit.

Review: My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

Japanese Title: Tonari no Totoro
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Toru Hara
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography: Hisao Shirai
Editing by: Takeshi Seyama
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 86 minutes
Release date(s): April 16, 1988 [Japan]

March 7, 2006 [Disney Dub]

Voice Actors:

Elle Fanning/Chika Sakamoto as Mei Kusakabe
Dakota Fanning/Noriko Hidaka as Kusakabe Satsuki
Frank Welker/Hitoshi Takagi as Totoro
Pat Carroll/Tanie Kiribayashi as Nanny
Timothy Daly/Shigesato Itoi as Professor Kusakabe
Lea Salonga/Sumi Shimamoto as Mrs. Kusakabe

Plot: [Wingsee]

Satsuki and Mei have recently moved to a countryside area of Japan with their Father. Their Mother has been rehabilitating at a nearby hospital and the move was made so that they could be closer to her, as well as to provide a better environment for her once she is allowed to go home. Although Satsuki and Mei were at first frightened by their new strange house, they soon discover that there is a magical presence there. Soon, they meet their new neighbour, a tree guardian named Totoro who lives in the forest behind their house, and together a wonderful adventure begins.

I Say…

The story was a bit slow paced, familiarizing the audience with the countryside life and how the Kusakabe Family led a peaceful and cheerful life despite being incomplete. The two children, Kusakabe Satsuki and Kusakabe Mei are quite adult like at their really young age.

The excitement began during the next half where Totoro began to feed their imaginations with all their magical encounters with him. There are a number of scary but lovable characters present aside from Totoro. To name a few, there are the little soot spirits who looked like the ones who appeared in the Spirited Away movie. Another interesting character is the Catbus, who was emphasized to be male. It actually kind of reminds me about the Alice in Wonderland Cheshire cat.

The film made me remember a lot of magical Disney films, who makes everyone imaginative and young at heart. This Studio Ghibli animated My Neighbor Totoro is one of those classics that will remind you of a child’s perfectly fantastic imagination.

*The poster was the original idea of having only one lead child.

Review: Grave of the Fireflies [1988]

Japanese Title: Hotaru No Haka
Release Date: 1988-04-16 [Japan]
Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Isao Takahata
Screenplay: Isao Takahata
Music: Michio Mamiya

Voice Actors (Japanese):
Ayano Shiraishi as Setsuko
Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita
Akemi Yamaguchi as Aunt
Yoshiko Shinohara as Mother

Plot summary: (animenewsnetwork)
On the final days of World War II, 14-year-old Seita and his four-year-old sister Setsuko are orphaned after their mother is killed during an air-raid by American forces in Kobe, Japan. After having a falling-out with their aunt, they move into an abandoned bomb shelter. With no surviving relatives and their emergency funds and rations depleted, Seita and Setsuko must struggle to survive their hardships as well as those of their country, which is on the losing end of the war.

I Say…
Grave of the Fireflies is a sad one. If we think Whispers of the Heart is realistic, this one is much more. It is, the most emotional animated film I have ever seen so far. I really made it a point to watch it after I have seen the previous Ghibli films I have reviewed before, because I know that it would either make me cry or upset me, because my friends told me that they cried when Setsuko died. Maybe life’s really hard when there is war.

It is a good and touching film. A bit figurative if you’d ask me. And maybe after watching it you’d wish too that no more wars will occur and separate children from their mothers and fathers.

Review: Laputa: Castle In the Sky [1986]

Japanese Title: Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta
Release date: August 2, 1986
Running time: 124 minutes
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi

Voice Actors: (Japanese, American, Disney dubbers)
Keiko Yokozawa, Louise Chambell, Anna Paquin (Sheeta)
Mayumi Tanaka, Bertha Greene, James Van Der Beek (Pazu)
Minori Terada, Jack Witte, Mark Hamill (Muska)

Plot: (from animenewsnetwork)
A girl named Sheeta falls out of the sky and lands in Pazu’s arms. Soon after a gang of air pirates led by Dola, as well as a mysterious man named Muska, are on their tails. The chase leads them to a floating castle that once belonged to an ancient race of people.

*****Differences between the English and Japanese Versions*****

(accessed through: wikipedia)

-The Disney-produced English dub was recorded back in 1998 and planned for release on video in 1999, but Disney eventually decided to release it to theaters instead (presumably because the first release under their deal with Studio Ghibli,Kiki’s Delivery Service, performed better than expected on VHS).

-After the box office failure of Princess Mononoke in the U.S., however, Laputa’s release date was pushed back yet again; on occasion the completed dub was screened at select children’s festivals. The movie was finally released on DVD and video in the U.S. on April 15, 2003, alongside Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away. Like Princess Mononoke, the Laputa dub received somewhat mixed reviews–criticisms were directed at the leads, while Cloris Leachman’s Dola and Mark Hamill’s Muska drew raves. Despite this, Castle in the Sky was the second-best selling DVD from Studio Ghibli distributed by Disney in the year of its release (after Spirited Away and ahead of Kiki’s Delivery Service).

-Although the plot and much of the script was left intact, Disney’s English dub of Laputa: Castle in the Sky contains some changes.

-A significant quantity of “background chatter” and comical one- liners were added (similar to Disney’s dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service)

-Composer Joe Hisaishi was commissioned to rework and extend his original synthesizer-composed soundtrack into a 90-minute piece for symphony orchestra in an effort to make the movie more accessible to U.S. audiences.

-Pazu and Sheeta, as portrayed by James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, are made to sound as though they are in their mid-teens, rather than their pre-teens.

-References to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island were removed.
While all these alterations were approved by Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki, there have been critics and fans who called them into question. In particular, some fans pointed out that the new soundtrack placed music in scenes that previously involved the dramatic use of natural silence, as in the opening airship raid or when Pazu and Sheeta pass through the storm cloud. On the other hand, according to a diary about the reworking of the music, Miyazaki is said to have applauded Hisaishi’s efforts, and some critics gave the re-scoring high marks in their reviews.

I say…

It’s one heck of an adventure we got here! Reviews on Fushigi no Umi no Nadia was right after all, it was like a longer version of Laputa’s. Lots and lots of characters from the series is very similar to Laputa’s. The drawings, the elements and the characters were obviously patterned to Laputa. But the viewpoint of Nadia is on Jules Verne’s “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” while Laputa is on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. I also thought that the flying ships in Laputa were very similar to 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, also from the same director.

I don’t think Pazu & Sheeta were in love… They just share the common feeling of being orphans and it drew them to each other. I think they look more like brother and sister. It will be better for me to think of them that way.

I’ve always thought the movie would be boring, so I always skip and choose another Ghibli movie. But it turned out to be a good, classic animation film. It influenced a great deal of animation series known to us now. I think I’m starting to appreciate this Hayao Miyazaki guy… he’s really good. I wonder if he’d still make other great animation movies for Studio Ghibli.

Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service [1989]

Kiki's Delivery ServiceJapanese Title: Majo no Takkyūbin
Release date: July 29, 1989
Running time: 103 minutes
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki (original script)
Based on the book by: Eiko Kadono
Music by: Joe Hisaishi

The Voice Actors:
Kirsten Dunst/Minami Takayama: Kiki
Janeane Garofalo/Minami Takayama: Ursula
Phil Hartman/Rei Sakuma: Jiji
Matthew Lawrence/Kappei Yamaguchi: Tombo
Tress MacNeille/Keiko Toda: Osono

Plot Summary: (from animenewsnetwork)

When an apprentice witch turns thirteen, she must leave her home in order to hone her craft. Although Kiki’s sole talent is broom-flying, she sets out for adventure with her cat Jiji. They settle in a charming seaside town, where Kiki establishes her own delivery service. As Kiki learns to balance independence with responsibility, her kind heart wins her many new friends in this coming-of-age tale.

******Differences Between the English and Japanese Versions******

Although the plot and much of the script was left intact, Disney’s English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service contains some changes. There were occasional additions and embellishments to the musical score overlaying some of the previously silent sequences. Most of the extra pieces of music (provided by Paul Chihara) ranged from soft piano music to a string-plucked renditions of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. In addition, the replacement of the original opening and ending theme songs. The new songs, “Soaring” and “I’m Gonna Fly” were written and performed by Sydney Forest.

In terms of plot, the character of the cat Jiji has changed slightly. The Japanese version had Jiji speak in a more female-sounding voice, which is how the Japanese depict cats in their media. The American version had Jiji as a more distinct male voice — possibly for fear audiences would think him female, until “she” showed interest in the white Persian cat next door — and gave him more of a wisecracking exterior. In the Japanese version, Jiji loses his ability to communicate with Kiki but in the American version, an extra line is included that implies he is able to speak (or she to understand him) again.

More minor changes to appeal to the different demographics include Kiki drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee, and a line about disco is changed instead to about ‘cute boys’. All changes were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. (Accessed Through: wikipedia)

I Say…
Talk about girl power! I really like Kiki! She rocks! Although she kind of reminds me about Nan (Little Women II’s Anne Harding) and Chihiro from Spirited Away. I think the movie makes sense. Everytime you think that you’re alone… there’s always someone or some people who couldn’t just turn you down. You just need to be a believer. The end was OK, it wasn’t too abrupt or short, neither was it boring. I really like the story. I think I’m going to check out the Japanese dubbed to be able to check out the differences. My liking for KDS is next to liking Whispers of the Heart. If not for the flying, it’d be a little more realistic in terms of the emotions humans feel. It’s all about independence, being young-spirited and cheerful no matter what you are facing. It such a feel good movie.

It’s Kirsten Dunst and Matthew Lawrence for the Disney dubbed! I was so happy to have read that fact! I have such a huge crush on Matthew Lawrence when I was 10 years old. (Those were the Super Human Samurai days of my life.)

Do check this movie out, it’s fun!