Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Movie Review

Even if you had absolutely no interest in animated movies of any type, Hayao Miyazaki has a way of convincing you to rethink that notion. Miyazaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, a 1989 feature about a 13-year old witch who sets off to find a new town to call her own with her trusty black cat Jiji, is so endearing that you may not notice how insightful it really is. Although none of us has probably moved away from home on that first step to adulthood at age 13, there’s still so much of Kiki that is very relatable.

In the world of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” witches are an everyday presence and people are not afraid of them, although having a witch working in your town is still something to behold. At 13, Kiki is expected to leave her parents and go in search of a town where she will ply her witch trades. Dressed in the traditional one-piece black dress and armed with a broom, some personal supplies, and joined by a talking black cat (the standard necessities for a witch, it seems), Kiki finds herself in a town that may just be too big, and a world she is ill prepared for.

The best thing about “Kiki’s” is that, despite its simplistic traditional cell animation and its pleasing screenplay by Miyazaki, the movie speaks very intimately about the trials and tribulations of being out in the real world alone. Forget for one moment that Kiki is 13 and that her misadventures are inspired by witchcraft; any would-be adult can learn a thing or two from this movie. There are the moments of depression, of missing home, of feeling like a total stranger in a big city that doesn’t know your name and doesn’t care to learn. It’s all portrayed in “Kiki’s” with great insight and in lush beautiful animated colors. It’s films like “Kiki’s” that makes computer animation seem so unnecessary.

Like a previous Miyazaki animation “My Neighbor Totoro” (my favorite animation to this day), “Kiki’s” doesn’t shy away from introducing the theory that, in the end, everything will work out just fine. Sure it’s very simplistic and most things don’t work out “just fine” in the real world, but “Kiki’s”, like “Totoro”, tells us that if we stay true to ourselves and to who we really are, then whatever transpires off that can’t be completely bad. This lesson is brought home when, later in the film, Kiki begins to believe that she’s lost her witch powers.

Besides Kiki, there are plenty of other characters to keep us entertained. Jiji, the black cat, is paranoid because he thinks other cats are always spurning him. Osono is the nice pregnant lady whose attic Kiki takes over to start her delivery service. (You see, every witch has a “specialty”, and since Kiki’s only real witch skill is flying on her broom, she starts a delivery service.) The love interest is provided by nerd Tombo, who dreams of flying and has fashioned his bicycle with a giant propeller to do just that.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a charming, endearing, and thoughtful film. Don’t let its bright colors and 13-year old characters fool you. The movie really understands the isolation and doubt that comes often to those seeking adulthood in the “real” world for the first time — that is, the world away from the protection of mother and father. The movie speaks to all of that, and offers up an exciting ending to boot.

“Oh the humanity!”

Hayao Miyazaki (director) / Eiko Kadono (book), Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)


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