Kiki's Delivery<br>Service - click to enlarge

Kiki's Delivery Service Staff Review



Flash Gordon (Anime Corner Staff Writer)


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‘I’M GONNA FLY’ [US closing theme]

  DVD BREAKDOWN  Characters

Kikis Delivery Service DVDpad


  REVIEW (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Let’s face it, you gotta love the crafty nature of Walt Disney, as much as Disney has been a force in animation, you can pretty much damn Disney for borrowing a number of great ideas from the world of Japanese animation whether they be subtle or more direct. Case in point: The outrageous duplication of Jungle Emperor Leo into the success of Walt Disney’s The Lion King, one of the most popular and successful Disney films ever produced, is the best and most scathing example of the company’s blatant disregard for crediting the respective players in the anime world for their significant artistic contributions to cellular cinema. On the flipside, you have to tip your cap to Disney for positively and openly endorsing the works of Hayao Miyazaki. Walt Disney’s moneymen, down to the animators adore Miyazaki and have done everything in their power to gain licensing rights for distribution of his films [Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle] in the United States through Buena Vista. Kiki’s Delivery Service outsold Akira on DVD in the US; at one point it was the 7th highest grossing film in Japan behind Miyazaki’s own Princess Mononoke and Porco Rosso. Disney’s love affair with his amazing work is not only a testament to their high regard for him as an artist, but has also brought further recognition to the world of Japanese anime as a by-product. Disney lends commentary at the opening of his US-distributed films on DVD with ringing praise of this master craftsman. Obviously, that point lends all the more futility to the fact that Disney got off the hook easy on The Lion King [but that’s another review entirely]. Granted, Disney knows how to fill the financial coffers and they know how to do it with the best when they see it. When it comes to the kind of charm, magic and overall wide-eyed innocence that Disney loves to embrace in its filmmaking, Miyazaki is king, often one-upping the company or at least matching Disney’s best stories, as he does here with the story of Kiki. Kiki’s Delivery Service [Majo no Takkyubin in Japan] is one of the most endearing anime films ever created, not only by Miyazaki but by anime standards period. It is an enduring, timeless classic in the vein of Disney classics like Robin Hood or Jungle Book. So while Disney may be an easy target to condemn at times, it too, has made considerable inroads in opening up the American market to Japanese animation in general, if not especially impacting the works of Miyazaki. 

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the charmingly simple but forever entertaining story of young, affable witch-in-training, Kiki. The tale is based on a book by Eiko Kadono. It is about Kiki’s journey to adulthood and her desire to simply fit into the world, driven by that innately human desire ‘to belong’. It is a universal message, which makes it so globally appealing. Kiki’s need to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors requires that she venture forth from the
witch order on her own, as is customary, at the tender age of 13. Her trial is one year and a year of magical discovery it is. Her willingness to befriend many lovely and sometimes eccentric characters along her journey young and old remains a lesson for today’s youth. She puts her special gift of flight to good use offering services for delivery of goods around the port city of Koriko. Apart from its colorlful cast of characters, the city is populated by a seemingly gorgeous fusion of architectural style lifted from 19th century Europe and Miyazaki works the details. You can only dream of living in places like this. The outwardly gregarious Kiki is accompanied by her faithful, black cat Jiji. Jiji is a stitch throughout, lending the film a more jaded, saltier touch of comedy with his less optimistic worldview. Kiki befriends a bespectacled Tombo who greets her with his pure heart. Her sojourn takes her to the open arms of a kindly woman named Osono, who runs a bakery shop and puts Kiki to work on delivery and provides her a place to stay. Things begin to go awry for Kiki when she starts to lose her power until she can discover how her gifts should be utilized. Watching the trials and tribulations of Kiki in her youth is like taking a look in the mirror when you were thirteen. It will open the door to your youthful heart and a more innocent past. In a way, it’s the flipside of the coin to Grave Of The Fireflies. Instead of a world turning it’s back, society here greets you with loving arms. It is a delight that this story continues to touch hearts of every generation. While many will prefer the headier, more metaphorical material found in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, like myself, Kiki’s Delivery Service is unquestionably a classic for the whole family that kills you with kindness. 

The terrific English voice-casting maintains the caliber of Miyazaki’s vision. Jiji is brilliantly deadpanned and timed with comedic perfection by the late Phil Hartman. Take for example a scene where Kiki and Jiji fly through the sky on her broom bandied about by wind gusts and a radio dangling on the handle. Kiki calls out to Jiji, “climb up and turn on the radio, I don’t think I can handle it. Can you do it?” With uncertain footing, Jiji replies, “oh great, now I’m suddenly the flight attendant.” Equally, the sweet purity of Kirsten Dunst’s voice is the perfect English complement to the dubbing of Kiki’s character. As Otaku know all too well, English translation is no easy trick and isn’t always pulled off effortlessly. But it is an art that most involved with on this of the Atlantic take very seriously with a sizeable voice-acting group making the anime convention circuit. 

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a story of self-discovery and one of anime’s most heartfelt coming-of-age stories to celebrate life. It is precisely this enchanting story of innocence that makes Miyazaki’s breathtaking 4th film a
masterpiece of storytelling. The animation is still far superior to many even today and Miyazaki, as always, took great care and detail in its creation. He certainly improved upon the details from his earlier film Nausicaa: The Valley Of The Wind. Not unlike Nausicaa, Kiki is yet another beautiful, wide-eyed heroine who takes us soaring into her world. Where Nausicaa used a glider, the motif here is Kiki’s broom, which flies us to freedom and her inevitable growth to joyful independence. While Miyazaki is revered as a master animator and one of Japan’s elite filmmakers, many critics have pointed to Spirited Away as his best. Put simply, this is debatable. Spirited Away may be filled with darker, Lewis Caroll-styled, Alice In Wonderland-like fantasy geared to a more mature audience given its scope, but it doesn’t eradicate the sheer power and singularity of vision by Miyazaki for Kiki’s Delivery Service. It holds up to the repeat viewing barometer of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. These films are uniquely different and are simply untouchable in his pantheon of work. You can be sure there are plenty of universities out there that take a long, hard look at the works of this legendary animator. 

As far as animation goes, this is one of the finest ever made for the young at heart. It rivals just about anything by Walt Disney, which is why there is such envy and reverence for Miyazaki by the company. Where some of Miyazaki’s later films are literarily powerful and beautiful to watch, they lack the simplicity of Kiki. Miyazaki’s consistent relationship with Joe Hisaishi sees to the implementation of his sweet musical scores adding yet another sweeping character element to the composition of this already vibrant film.

From the picturesque establishing shot of the opening colors, green flowing fields of grass set against blue skies and white clouds, Kiki’s Delivery Service sets the exhilarating tone of a film as an invitation for all to escape and
take flight on this journey with Kiki and our affirmation of life through her eyes. It is a love letter for all to join in Kiki’s adventures into Miyazaki’s world of all that is good, where a random act of kindness or a kind word is the rule of the day rather than the infrequent oddity. It captures the bewitching ingredients of pure family cinema often missing from today’s Disney storylines, all too often populated by obnoxious dialogue in the form of the gratuitous off-hand use of words like ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot,’ complemented by juvenile slapstick violence. It’s a film that has the beauty of any Disney classic, but its story too delights in the magic of our youth and innocence, respecting Kiki and the cast of characters that inhabit her world. It is a perennial favorite in the way classics run like Bambi or Robin Hood playing without the unnecessary ugly and classless scripting often witnessed by today’s young animators. There are few films on the planet better suited for a young family than Kiki’s Delivery Service. As I watched with my daughter, I looked over at one point as she gazed upon Kiki with her broom. She was smiling ear to ear with awe and wide-eyed wonder marveling at the screen. The joy of that moment says it all. Kids need to be treasured and growing up has never been more fun, tender or sweet than it is with Kiki.

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