Yeah, Kiki's Cute, But the Story's a Charmer

Don't let Kiki's Mickey Mouse bow, her cute lil' cat, and the soft European-inspired settings fool you.

It's almost as if Hayao Miyazaki wants to prove with Kiki's Delivery Service that he's able to take any concept, no matter how flowery, and make it into a thoughtful, earnest fable. The concept sounds like it could be dull and meandering, focusing on a young female witch named Kiki who sets off on a right of passage to live away from her family for a year to train. No magic takes place at Kiki's hand in our eyes, aside from soaring high in the air with her broom, and she instead establishes a "delivery service" with her one power. She's not sure what her magical specialty should be, or, for that matter, sure of very much of anything regarding her place in the mainstream world. A film about a witch where she's not doing anything witchy, just simply working and interacting with townsfolk.

So, why is Kiki's Delivery Service great? Well, because it's teeming with heart and splendid characters. From the second she arrives at a quaint seaside town, the place of her choosing and new base of operations, it's clear that the story's going to be one about the young girl struggling to fit into a bustling environment. With a broom, a radio, and a talking black cat named Jiji as her only possessions, she sets out to discover where she's going to live -- a portrait of many young individuals, though most that go through the same thing are usually older than her. As she descends on her broom into town, she's met with a cold, almost uninterested shoulder from the townspeople that nearly drives her away. Then, through the kindness of a local bakery owner with a room above her shop, she's given affirmation that she's where she belongs.

Things kind of fall into place like that in life, where the right answer, whether ideal or not, arrives at our feet when it seems like everything's falling apart. Kiki's Delivery Service draws a portrait of that transition point with both a child audience and adult-oriented viewers in mind, making her placement in the town easier than it probably should've been but charming enough to make it not matter. A simple gesture of kindness from Kiki during her most distressed moment, something as simple as returning a pacifier to a baby, results in her life changing for the better; it's that hopeful leap of faith in believing that happenstance, and, possibly, a dishing of karma, will return with kindness to those unabashedly helpful that gives Myazaki's film its heart.

A lot of Kiki's Delivery Service is spent traveling to and from locations across the beautiful Riviera-like town, introducing us to the characters across the map and simply immersing us into her world. Aside from the young boy infatuated with Kiki, we also see her interact with a snotty popular girl and her witch-friendly grandmother who endearingly makes her herring pies every year for her birthday. Through a chaotic delivery that pits Kiki against aggressive blackbirds, she also stumbles across an older, beautiful female artist who, like herself, relies on her unique talent to support herself. Though the path Miyazaki draws is beautiful as Kiki glides through the air, images stunning to our eyes both while navigating through cloudless skies and torrential rainfall, it's the destinations where she drops off packages -- and the people that affect her, lovingly constructed by Miyazaki -- that sustains its appeal.

It's hard not to care about Kiki, through her joyous laugh and appreciation for the little aesthetics in life, and the reward she receives for her unswerving compassion is poignant because of the affection built for the character. The road created for her, once she perfects her delivery service, isn't always uphill; at one point, her dwindling confidence causes her to have something like "writer's block" on her flying abilities. Kiki catches a glimpse at the disheartening nature of the human spirit and the wasted effort put into making others happy, and it weighs down her own confidence. She struggles with her witchcraft that way that many of us struggle with our own creative or everyday endeavors, stunted to inactivity until she finds her inspiration. A conversation with her kindred spirit, the artist, becomes the driving force in reinvigorating the young witch, a back and forth between two imaginative people that arrives at an obvious but levelheaded answer -- to persevere until the muse returns.

Kiki's Delivery Service roots itself in a realistic world that only contains a splash of the fanciful, being Kiki's mostly unused power as a witch, which transforms this into Miyazaki's second-most grounded directorial effort. It's a tangible environment that's free of the enchanted grandeur in Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, giving us a glimpse into the animated director's outlook on human interaction under normal means. It boils to a rousing conclusion much like his other films, making use of elements sprinkled throughout about aeronautics and Kiki's admirer, yet the way it leans on her raw emotions at the time helps to give weight to her path of growth and self-determination. Watching her finally come to grips with who she is, all while enduring her rocky path to "getting" herself, proves to be a sublimely touching and gorgeous conclusion to a tender addition to Miyazaki's oeuvre.

For the full Blu-ray/DVD review, head over to [Click Here]


Anonymous said...

Fantastic write-up. I've been enjoying this on DVD a couple of times a year since it was released and it never fails to get me right >< there.

Thomas Spurlin said...

I agree. We pick and choose our favorite Miyazaki films, those of us that adore him, and Kiki's Delivery Service never gets to the top of my list (usually a fight between Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke). However, I always find myself adoring it more and more with each screening.

Thanks for reading -- glad you enjoyed the review.

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