Kiki’s Delivery Service (Japan, 1989) carries us into the experiences of a young witch as she charts her path in the real world. Sincere, spirited Kiki has turned thirteen, the age when witches leave the nest for a year of solo training. She’s ready to take on the world with her broomstick and her best friend Jiji, a cautious but supportive black cat (a tiny wisp of a feline) if she can only get her flying under control – her takes-offs are still a bit erratic.
She picks a picture postcard seaside town of red tiled roofs and cobble stone streets, a quaintly European village mixing old world architecture and the bustle of contemporary life rendered in loving detail. It’s daunting at first but with luck and pluck she finds a home above a bakery, starts her own business (a high flying delivery service) and begins making friends.
Hayao Miyazaki’s gentle rhythm and meandering narrative capture the easy pulse of real life, a refreshing change from the Disney tradition that every American animation studio emulates with splashy song breaks, slapstick comic relief, and life-and-death Indiana Jones-like climaxes. The magic of Kiki is the girl’s sense of wonder in her new world, whether it’s her soaring flight among the migrating geese or a bicycle ride with Tombo to see the dirigible. My favorite moments involve Kiki’s friendship with the young woman Ursula, an independent young artist who becomes a big sister and role model. When Kiki loses her self-confidence Ursula invites her to her rural cabin for a sleepover and a self-esteem boost, enough reassurance for Kiki to come the rescue in a spectacular finale involving the out-of-control dirigible.
For adults there’s clever, understated humor that runs through the picture, lampooning movie merchandising with images of Jiji on coffee cups and in stuffed animals and a winking come on line to the furry white feline next door: “Hello, kitty.”
Available with original Japanese and English language soundtracks. The American release features the voice of Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, a gently subdued Phil Hartman as Jiji, Matthew Lawrence, and Janeane Garofalo.
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Kiki’s Delivery Service [Blu-ray+DVD]
Kiki’s Delivery Service [DVD]