Genre: Fantasy / Slice Of Life
Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 12 Nov 2010
Yet another gem from Hayao Miyazaki, proving that a film can be cute and heartwarming without being cloying.
Thirteen-year-old Kiki is a young witch who is setting out to do what is tradition for witches of that age: embarking on a journey to a new town to begin a new life out on her own, accompanied by her wise-cracking black cat, Jiji. However, things don’t seem to be starting off as well as Kiki had hoped. That is, until she meets a kind baker who agrees to take her in. So begins Kiki’s new life as she learns the up and downs of what it means to be a witch.
Ghibli films are as difficult to review as they are simple. To me, they are pinnacles of animated film, regardless of the nation of origin. Whether they are judged on technical or creative merit, it is hard to find anything lacking in a movie produced by the powerhouse Japanese studio. The whimsical Kiki’s Delivery Service is no exception.
The film is set in an early to mid twentieth-century European-styled town by the sea, bustling with activity from people and vehicles. It’s a technological era not unseen in a Miyazaki film, as it resembles the settings of his subsequent films Porco Rosso and Howl’s Moving Castle. Aside from the existence of magic and a talking cat, Kiki’s Delivery Service is set in what is mostly a plausible alternate real-world setting in 1940s Europe. It’s just a world that magic happens to exist in; it’s no big deal that Kiki comes from a family of witches, and being a witch is just another walk of life, no different from if someone were a police officer or shopkeeper.
As with most movies, I will refrain from going into any more detail about the plot than I have in the summary above, as I believe that watching the film yourself is the best way to experience it. That said, without spoiling anything, I can point out that one of my favorite sequences of the film involves an amusing situation that Jiji finds himself in. Though he is Kiki’s cat, he is a full-fledged member of the cast, albeit in a supporting role. He’s no less important than the human supporting cast, which includes the spectacled flying enthusiast Tombo and a free-spirited painter who makes her home in the woods.
Clearly, Kiki’s Delivery Service is not one of Ghibli’s epic films (and I use this term in its original meaning, not the all-encompassing hyperbole of today’s internet-speak), but it lies within the scope of the studio’s other specialty: childhood wonder and flights of fancy, much like My Neighbor Totoro and the recent Ponyo. Kiki is a simple tale told in simple fashion, and it is in this simplicity that the film’s strength lies. It’s a movie about a girl growing up, and it accomplishes this by merely allowing us to see how she deals with the situations given to her, rather than wrapping the story in layers of symbolism or metaphor.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a delightful film which is one of my favorites from the Ghibli catalog, and it is a great choice for introducing newcomers to the studio’s work.