Miyazaki Showcase: Kiki’s Delivery Service

July 8, 2004 on 12:55 pm | In Kiki's Delivery Service | Comments Off on Miyazaki Showcase: Kiki’s Delivery Service

The first Miyazaki film to be based on a book, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a movie which has a plot, but not a lot happens. It’s enjoyable and has some good messages … but it lacks development that robs it of credibility.

At 13, a witch must move alone to a city or town that doesn’t have a witch of its own and live independently for a year. On a clear night with a full moon, Kiki decides that it’s finally time to set herself up. She flies off to a bustling city with Jiji, her black cat, and when pressed to find a skill she can use, she sets up a flying delivery service atop a bakery.

Kiki’s Delivery Service gets off to a good start, with Kiki arriving in the city that she falls instantly in love with, and only after landing finds that city people are generally unaccomodating, unlike her old home where everyone knew each other. It’s not until she finds Osono, owner of a bakery, that she gains any confidence at all.
However, after this, the film’s problems come in. In the entire film, Kiki makes maybe three deliveries, not allowing a sense of establishing a business before the film’s drama. When Kiki makes a friend, she suddenly snaps and yells at him, and then she can’t fly any more. The fact that nothing really seems to bring this on is the largest sticking point of them all. Kiki is a generally cheerful and optimistic character, so her battle with depression isn’t handled very well.
Kiki’s Delivery Service still has some very nice ideas and well done scenes. The old woman that Kiki meets provides scenes of joy and care mixed with sadness, and is contrasted by her uppity granddaughter who disheartens Kiki. The culture shock aspect of the film – the general indifference of the citizens who don’t have time to pay attention to a trainee witch, the apathetic fashionable teenage girls – is one of the strongest points; Kiki went from a town where everyone knew each other, to a city where no one wants to know anyone.
Ursula the artist is the most insightful character and it is worth noting that she and Kiki share Takayama Minami as their seiyuu. The themes that hit the strongest are those raised by Ursula: the struggle with talent and ability and creativity is something that many can identify with, but it doesn’t seem that Kiki earned this motivational talk, which is the film’s major problem.
What it boils down to is that this film works as a series of vignettes and a look at a beautiful, interesting society. The injection of drama doesn’t gel, and it just kind of ends.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, because of its narrative flaws, makes Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s other flaws more apparent. One of the main things that one notices – and this is by no means exclusive to Miyazaki – is that the characters frequently burst into laughter. After a while, it becomes quite disconcerting.
The other, more important, factor, is that for once Miyazaki’s simple, bright cel work clashes with the rich backgrounds of the studio. Never before has it been more apparent that the cels and the backgrounds are separate. At times it feels like the characters don’t live in their world so much as they live on it, giving the sense of bad blue screen. Every action is telegraphed because the moving objects don’t blend with their background, and it’s an unnerving effect. Of course, the world is totally beautiful and the city a marvel of design. The flight scenes are well done for the most part, particularly the times when the entire world is made of cels.
The paint is simply too bright a lot of the time.

Hisaishi Joe’s music is, as always, great to hear: particularly the fifties music. Combined with the black and white television broadcasts, the talk of dirigibles and the general antique style of car, this film definitely has an old world charm about it.

Kiki’s Delivery Service has many warm and funny moments, but it doesn’t develop as well as it should in terms of plot or character and is therefore mildly disappointing. Still, that won’t stop many from loving it because, essentially, this is a good film.

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