Magic in the Air, Smiles Everywhere: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Copyright © 1989 by Studio Ghibli

Ever since I got serious about watching anime, I’ve heard so much about the great animator and director Hayao Miyazaki and all the wonderful films he’s given us over the years. In particular, it was through the reviews of one JesuOtaku that I decided to give some of those films I look, so I started with one of his earlier and better-known titles, Kiki’s Delivery Service.

A 13-year-old girl named Kiki leaves home to begin her training as a resident witch in a new city. With her talking cat Jiji and a broomstick, Kiki flies in to an awkward reception in the port city of Koriko. After making friends with a local plane enthusiast named Tombo, Kiki starts her trade in the modern city of Koriko as a delivery girl, flying in and out of the local bakery to the wonder of the town’s residents. But when faced with opposition, Kiki has to struggle to overcome her insecurities and face new challenges, especially when it means saving her friend Tombo’s life.

I watched the English dub of the film, which was produced through Disney and featured such notable celebrities as Kirsten Dunst (voicing Kiki) and the late Phil Hartman (whose dub work for Jiji the cat was the last voice-acting performance of his career). While the voice acting was generally good, the overall script felt a bit awkward. The sheer volume of Jiji’s lines was unbearable after a while, and although Phil Hartman was a great actor, it’s obvious that they couldn’t let his character go one scene without a sarcastic comment or joke, sometimes threatening to spoil the pleasant atmosphere.

Visually, this is a great film to look at. Miyazaki has an eye for recreating styles and settings from the early 20th century, with biplanes and radios and the classic Stockholm-inspired architecture of Koriko. Even with all the characters and dialogue to focus on, it’s easy to get lost in the tiny details and backgrounds in each scene.

However, the visual element didn’t cover up the story–at least for me. The opening of the film is highly saturated with cuteness: Kiki talking to her parents and friends, Kiki and her cat, and so on and so forth. While I recognize that Miyazaki has a good style and wants to evoke the right tone in his films, it just wasn’t for me. I was never that invested in Kiki as a protagonist, knowing full well how every setback would be overcome and she’d find her purpose and her spirit by the end of the film.

If there’s one thing about the story concept that I enjoy the most, it’s the treatment of witches in the story. Instead of casting them as a malicious group or apart from society, Miyazaki’s witches belong to a respected profession, much like the town doctor or the postal worker. It also serves to set up the ongoing theme of Old vs. New, whether it’s Kiki trying to use her own broom instead of her mother’s or the tradition of witches trying to survive in a thoroughly modern city like Koriko. Though I may not have enjoyed the execution as such, the mere spirit of the theme was strong enough for me to take note.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the chance at seeing the quality of Miyazaki’s work firsthand. While there were some issues with the voice acting and the overall plot, it wasn’t the worst movie to sit through. At the very least, the depth of the animation and the detail in every scene was more than worth the wait.

The English dub for Kiki’s Delivery Service is available through Disney Movies.

Bibliography: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989 film). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Hayao Miyazaki. Written by Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the novel by Eiko Kadono. Studio Ghibli. Toei Company; Buena Vista Pictures; Madman Entertainment. Original release date: July 22, 1989.


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