This review is republished from Nick Bruno’s blog, The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown.
Early on in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki’s mother bemoans the loss of her traditions, wondering who will carry on making medicinal potions after she’s gone. An elderly neighbor reminds her that “things change, little by little,” setting the stage for Hayao Miyazaki’s 1989 animated film; the story of a young woman striking out on her own, seeking to distinguish her life from the ones lived by her parents. The fact that our young heroine, Kiki, also happens to be a witch, matters to the story but mostly as a textural device, considering that, with or without the magical dressing, the film’s basic thrust involves the chronicling of one young woman’s exploration of the world and her identity within it.
The film opens right as Kiki has decided that today will be the day she cuts the apron strings and leaves her parent’s home. She’s thirteen years old, traditionally the age when young witches go searching for a town to call their own. Heading off with her familiar, a black cat named Jiji, she flies unsteadily into the future, unaware of the adventures that await her.
Miyazaki keeps the tone light and the pacing unhurried throughout Kiki’s Delivery Service. There are moments when Kiki must rise to the occasion, necessitating the orchestration of a grand action sequence. But there’s also quite a lot of room made in the film for her to simply wander, explore, and contemplate both her surroundings and her prospects. Surprisingly enough, the story shrugs off the standard girl or boy with powers conventions; no one she encounters seems all that surprised that she can fly on a broomstick, so there’s no time wasted on Kiki denying her base self. This is a film that looks to empower, not shame, its protagonist (and by extension, it’s young viewers).
Funny but not without its share of character-building lessons, the film is fashioned out of the same enchanted materials that power most of Studio Ghibli’s output. Exquisite hand-drawn animation blends with imaginative storytelling that’s applicable to real life situations, all without pandering to its target audience or relying on the sort of cheap laughs that routinely appear in lesser works by Dreamworks or Disney (fart jokes, anyone?). Like its youthful central character, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a magical creature with a personality all its own.
Kiki’s Delivery Service screens as a part of the retrospective series, Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli. More info about the Studio Ghibli series here. It plays at the NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, May 11th at 7pm, Saturday, May 12th at 1pm, and Sunday, May 13th at 1pm.
The film will be presented in the original Japanese w/ English subtitles.