Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.
This is the seventh in a series of twelve movies selected by Nick Jobe.
Six or seven years ago, I’d never seen a film from Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin) is my seventh, and not the first that Nick has had me watch. This is from early in Miyazaki’s career, which can be kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there’s The Castle of Cagliostro, which is entertaining but hardly great. On the other hand, there’s My Neighbor Totoro, which is damn near perfect. Kiki leans a little more toward the Cagliostro side of the spectrum. It’s Miyazaki, after all, but it feels like second-tier Miyazaki.
Fortunately, the story we’re given isn’t filled with much of the science fiction/fantasy anime problem that I often experience. Frequently, I feel like I just don’t know what is going on. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, there is only one piece of license from the real world taken. That license is that witches exist, and thus magic exists to some extent in terms of the witches’ potions, spells, and ability to ride brooms. Kiki (Kirsten Dunst, I watched the English language version) is a young witch. The tradition is that at 13, witches go off on their own to a new town to train for a year, and Kiki has decided that since the night is supposed to be clear and have a full moon that she will leave to find her own path that night. Her mother (Kath Soucie) is worried because she never had time to teach Kiki a lot of the spells and potions she’ll need. Kiki’s cat Jiji (Phil Hartman) is also a little worried about the sudden plan to leave.
Off Kiki goes, eventually landing in a seaside city that doesn’t seem to have a witch about the place. Initially, she discovers that life in the big city is very different from what she knows and that the people don’t seem all that interested in having a witch around. This changes when she does a small favor for Osono (Tress MacNeille), a pregnant baker. Thankful for this favor, Osono gives Kiki a place to stay. Thinking for a moment, Kiki realizes that flying is really her only talent, so she begins a delivery service, ferrying packages about the city on her broom.
It’s slow going at first, and her inaugural delivery meets with a series of disasters. Scheduled to deliver a small stuffed cat to a birthday party, she is caught in a blast of wind and the present goes sailing. Jiji is forced to stand in for the toy until Kiki is able to retrieve it from Ursula (Janeane Garofalo), a painter who lives in the woods. Kiki has also attracted the attention of Tombo (Eddie Frierson), a boy of about her age who is obsessed with flying. Kiki can’t quite resolve her feelings for Tombo, and is intimidated by his friends, who seem to view her as a figure of fun.
Eventually, these doubts cause Kiki to lose her ability to fly, putting a damper on her delivery business and even causing her to lose the ability to communicate with Jiji. It will take something dramatic and serious to put her back on her broom, but since this is an animated movie for children, that shouldn’t be too hard to come by, now should it?
Here’s the thing: Kiki’s Delivery Service is good and the artwork is beautiful. But this seems like a lesser story from the mind that created Spirited Away and The Wind is Rising. The story is very basic and very linear. I’m certain that a lot of kids will like the story because it’s easy to follow and has all of the elements expected in a film like this one. I won’t say that I was bored watching it, but I did think that for a story this simple, it ran a bit too long.
And that’s sort of the problem with the film. As the seventh Miyazaki film I’ve seen, I understand that it’s one that I consider to be of lesser status than the man’s truly great films. It lacks the fantastic vision of films like Princess Mononoke or Howl’s Moving Castle, it lacks the charm of a film like My Neighbor Totoro, and it is missing the storytelling wonder of Spirited Away. It’s good, but it never gets all the way to great.
I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t like the film, because I did, and I would watch it again. I know what Hayao Miyazaki is capable of creating, though, and Kiki’s Delivery Service seems too simple, too lacking in the fantastic to be considered a film that ranks with his best work. We’ll call this a win, but it’s a mildly subdued win. Nick, you’re 6 for 7.
Why to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service: It’s Miyazaki.
Why not to watch: It’s lesser Miyazaki.