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Oct 31, 2013

Review: Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Voice Cast:
                       Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Minami Takayama, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koichi Yamadera, Mieko Nobusawa, Koichi Miura, Haruko Kato, Hiroko Seki and Yuko Kobayashi

                   Hayao Miyazaki

                 Kiki's Delivery Service is a very special film to me. Perhaps the most in terms of how much it touched me on so many levels and stayed in my heart throughout these years. I was shown this wonderful animated fantasy film by my aunt. I was young at that time, far from being a big cinema connoisseur that I am today. Due to the lack of exposure to cinema from the very beginning, you can imagine the kind of magic this wonderful film must have had on me. We were shown various Disney features and some old classics for younger audiences in school, that is all I remember. Watching Kiki's Delivery Service, I was immediately taken to this magical world where every detail spoke to me. Everything felt strangely real to me. It was all nothing less than a revelation, I learned so much from this experience. It was that time in my life when I was on the brink of becoming a teenager myself, so what I learned from this film really helped me understand what life really is and what a person have to do to survive it. Now years later, I can still feel the impact it had on me. I still remembered every detail of it when I watched this film once again when I got my first desktop computer. I was really curious to find out about it, to see what others think of it and who actually made it. This was my first introduction to the greatness of Studio Ghibli and that of the master himself, Hayao Miyazaki. It is rare for a film from my childhood to have stayed so much with me. There are several other masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Taxi Driver, Rashomon and others that contributed a lot to my cinematic journey. Each of them has significance, each of them stands for something or the other in my life. First film to start my cinematic journey, first adult film, first foreign film... Kiki's Delivery Service will be the first film to have me think about life. One of the most memorable experiences I have ever had, something I will cherish for the entirety of my life.

                 So enough about what this film means to me, lets talk about what and how it really is. Kiki's Delivery Service is a fantasy film that involves witches. Yes, the one with brooms. But it is far from those conventional fare with similar setting. Kiki is a young girl, she is 13 and is trying to become a witch. She lives in a village with her family, her mother is a herbalist. It is mandatory for every witch who reaches that age to live on her own for a year. The purpose of this is to teach them the significance of life, to experience life as it is and learn about everything including themselves. Kiki takes off for the big city on the broom with her black talking cat, Jiji. That journey is beautiful to witness, one can feel the curiosity and at the same time, doubts that she has due to this big step. You see picaresque locations, so much scenery. Then they reach the port city called Koriko and it has a very European feel to it. There is beautiful seaside, hills, cliffs, forests, beautiful houses and shops but above all, a clock tower. That city is at once both a very home-y place as well as the city of big opportunities for Kiki. A perfect setting for someone to fully embrace their mission without having to live miserably throughout. That is a place where she can learn so much. Kiki faces a few setbacks at first and it is all natural for her to feel self-doubt and insecurity. She eventually finds a place to live and work, a bakery where she becomes the delivery girl thanks to her ability to fly. That skill itself is something that needs to be perfected so you can imagine what she must feel. Kiki's journey continues that way as she grows as a person and learns a lot about people, life and herself. She also meets a boy who not only likes her but admires her ability to fly as he himself is an aviation enthusiast. Kiki and Jiji together, delivering baked goods every time is a wonderful thing that amuses you. Every one of these 'little adventures' offer a lot of insight for her. Things seems to go well, until they don't.

                 With such a fantasy based plot, this film says more about life than one might think. This is a coming of age story in the best sense. Kiki learns to be independent, to live her life on her own. She works very hard, tries to be optimistic when things are quite difficult for her at first but she slowly grows into her new purpose in life. She does miss her home and her life back there but finds much beauty when she doesn't expect any in this big city. The episodic structure of this film really helps develop the story with each encounter resulting in the growth of the character. There is so much to learn from every mistake, even the things that are done right can offer a great deal of understanding regarding what they mean in the larger sense. Kiki is unlike any other protagonist I have seen in an animated film. We mostly get to see those Disney princesses, this is a different thing entirely. Kiki is a witch but she is living in the real world among normal people. So everything about her is perfectly human as well. The problems that she has are similar to those one encounters in real life. Even her creative problems, that is her flying ability, is used in such a way that goes beyond what normally such movies end up saying. The most significant example of that in this film can be found when Kiki loses her powers. That happens due to the many disappointments and setbacks, heartbreak and hopelessness. She is on the verge of an emotional breakdown. It is all so real. You often lose that energy and fire that keeps you going in life, that purpose and goal you have sometime seems at an unreachable distance. I love that part of her in the forest with that girl who ends up helping Kiki with her insightful conversation. The writers and artists, each one of them has such creative blocks. In life, one needs inspiration and a purpose to continue the 'journey'. Creativity is inside us, abilities is what we have. But when nothing seems to be working out for you, it is understandable why we lose all hope and everything comes crashing down on us.

                 The animation style and look of Kiki's Delivery Service is quite soft, subtle and fluid. It still has the vastness and depth one always expects from the work of the studio and Miyazaki. It is a beautifully told story in the most quietest way possible. The softly moving and spoken tone of this film should not be mistaken for being slow or boring. It relies on emotions behind the adventures in life, not the action itself. The background score here is one of the greatest, a must for Studio Ghibli film. In each one of them, the score is always highlighted. Joe Hisaishi is one of the master composers, his work in this film is one of the very best. I also love that cat, Jiji. Very witty, charming and a delightful pet. The balance that Miyazaki finds between the allegories and the storytelling aspects or the fantasy and reality is spectacular. The commentary on dependence and independence is effortlessly achieved through a strongly written plot. This is one of Miyazaki's most unique turns, it comes off as quite personal. His directorial abilities are always indubitable. Kiki's Delivery Service is both delightfully enchanting, adventurous in an offbeat way as well as bittersweet. It is though neither too sweet or very gentle. Miyazaki usually never refrains from delving into much darker aspects. The exploration is what counts to him and all those things comes with it. It is culturally significant, socially active and overall universal. Heartwarming tale that will hopefully stay with you as well. A masterpiece.

Grade: A