Japanese Title: Majo no Takkyuubin
Similar: Spirited Away
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 1 hr. 45 min. movie
- Sweet depiction of teenage growth.
- Charming little details.
- Natural characters.
- Not enough ‘witchy’ stuff.
Every witch, once at a certain age, must leave her hometown and fly on her own to find a place in the world. Most witches don’t stray far from home, but a mishap sends witch Kiki from countryside burrow to seaside city, where a witch hasn’t set broom in a long time. No flying in town! Accompanied by her cynical black cat, she drifts in this alien world until a kindly baker offers a place to stay in exchange for work. Kiki soon has the idea for a delivery service of baked goods and private parcels.
Okay, Miyazaki, this is, what, the thirtieth time you open a story with moving house to a distant place? Is this some recurring nightmare of yours? Or are you trying to signal us that you’re trapped and wish to move from your current location? Is it Yubaba? Does she have your name? Wait! Are you not actually named Miyazaki? Dun, dun, DUN!
While we uncover Miyazaki’s curse/dream, let’s discuss Kiki’s Delivery Service. I like it, but not as much as I could have.
First, the scene when she leaves home is perfect. “You grew up so fast.” “You can always come back if you don’t like it.” “—as a failure, euch!” It’s like the team saw my departure from home – minus the witchery, of course. Miyazaki’s ability to capture these small moments brings his stories to life.
Similarly, I love how Kiki bumps into buildings and has to kick off walls when flying with a heavy package. They could have had her fly normally and it wouldn’t change the story at all, yet with these details, it instantly connects us to the situation, for we believe that’s how it would happen as though we have flown brooms with heavy packages. The detail of her landing at the front gate and knocking rather than flying straight into the garden is charming as well – highly Japanese.
Kiki’s challenges are light-hearted, for the most part, such as recovering a dropped toy from a murder of crows – her cat has to act toy-like for the customer until then, to humorous results. When she faces her greatest challenge, involving stress and boy from the city, it lacks gravitas. For one, the boy isn’t a particularly interesting character and a stranger could replace his involvement, but more importantly, the incident doesn’t seem personal enough to Kiki. If you look at My Neighbor Totoro’s equivalent high-stress scene for the climax, it has impact because it hits the protagonist’s core. Extreme emotion isn’t compulsory. However, when the incident has a personal connection, the audience can feel its importance.
My words make it sound as though I am laying into Kiki’s Delivery Service, when really, the finale is fine and the growth it brings is valuable. It’s just that when you have Studio Ghibli, you know they can elevate it further. Also, there isn’t enough witchiness in this adventure beyond the broom flying and talking cat.
Art – Very High
Ghibli quality – detail, animation, colour, you know the drill by now, all excellent.
Sound – High
Good acting in both Japanese and English. I love the pleasant music and ambient sounds such as birds chirping in the morning and rain falling outside.
Story – High
A young witch ventures out on her own for the first time to face life’s trials and tribulations. Kiki’s Delivery Service delivers a great coming-of-age story, but it could do with a little more ‘witch’ in it.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Though not a must watch, especially if familiar with Studio Ghibli’s other works, Kiki’s Delivery Service is easy to recommend for all ages. Kiki’s character arc and charm are reason enough.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)