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Kiki’s Delivery Service
February 10, 2006

Continuing to sample the works of Miyazaki, I tried Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Upon the advice of my readers, I watched the subtitled instead of dubbed version, and I agree, Phil Hartman as the voice of the cat would have been too distracting. Although I’ve only seen a couple of Miyazaki films, I could already identify his common themes here: spirited young woman unsure of her skills meets neighbor boy fascinated by her strength and with unusual interest of his own. When confused or disheartened, kind-hearted elderly people encountered by chance tell reassuring stories. An appreciation of nature restores the soul, and creative people are to be valued.

Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service
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It was, as advertised, the story of a spunky young witch who goes to find her place in the world. However, it left me with many more questions than answers. First, for a Japanese cartoon, I was surprised by how European the city was, with the winding streets and buses and bakery. The IMDB trivia page explains some of the background, which is a help.

I wondered why Kiki needed to go out on her own, leaving her loving and supportive parents, if all she was going to do was find a replacement mother, in the form of the pregnant (symbolism!) bakery owner. The baker gives her a room, feeds her, gives her minimal chores, and takes care of her while she’s sick. Where’s the self-reliance?

I wondered what kind of disturbed mind decides to homage the Hindenburg disaster in a film otherwise suitable for children, to the extent of including the caption “Oh, the humanity!” when the dirigible catastrophe happens. Certainly, animation isn’t only for kids, but this film, with its young girl heroine in its otherwise comfortable structure, will certainly attract them as viewers.

I’m left unsure at the end exactly why Kiki started losing her powers. I know she needed to overcome her crisis of faith, which is when the movie adopted a more typical adventure structure, but was a definite reason ever given? All I remember is the artist’s advice to keep on doing what you need to be doing and struggle through, but that isn’t an explanation, just a prescription.

And by the end, I was thoroughly sick of seeing Kiki’s bloomers.

All in all, the lovely flying scenes will stay with me, but I can’t call the viewing a success. There’s still Spirited Away, though.

12 Responses  
John Jakala writes:  

Huh. I remember loving it when I saw it months ago — even thinking I couldn’t wait to share it with my daughter when she’s older — but now I’m thinking I need to watch it again to see if I notice the things that bothered you.

 
Michael Denton writes:  

Kiki’s is passable, but not something I’d necessarily want to return to. It has its charm and moments, but it’s not terribly entertaining. Hartman as the cat was _very_ distracting.

Spirited Away is a completely different movie – compelling, scary, surreal, touching, and has a less annoying heroine. It’s a movie I love revisiting and it just keeps improving as you re-watch it.

 
Johanna writes:  

Well, John, you know me … sometimes I can look a bit too much at the flaws and lose the overall big picture. It wasn’t a bad movie, and I wouldn’t really object to showing it to kids, it just struck me odd in places, and when it came to writing about it, that’s what I wanted to talk about.

Michael, I hope I agree with you about SA. I think I’m going to give it some time before trying it, to start fresh with it.

 
Ralf Haring writes:  

I haven’t watched Kiki’s Delivery Service. My favorite Miyazaki films so far are Princess Mononoke and Porco Rosso with high marks to Spirited Away as well. I only watched Nausicaä after having read the manga, and was quite disappointed.

Miyazaki’s definitely got his pet themes, as you mentioned, which just have to be ignored sometimes to appreciate the movie. It’s probably comparable to how folks complain about many of Warren Ellis’ protagonists.

 
Matthew Craig writes:  

No offense, people, but your Phil Hartman Aversion Dials (PHADs) need retuning. I’ve seen as much Lionel Hutz as the next chap, but I thought he was great – as great as you can be – in the role of Jiji.

Kiki isn’t my favourite Miyazaki, but that’s only because Mononoke and Chihiro are so damn perfect. That said, it’s a film I can watch again and again, for the sheer joy it exudes with every frame. And the songs. And the bit with the bike.

There’s been a veritable deluge of Miyazaki over here, recently. Animé DVDs are, on the whole, too expensive for my wallet – they can slash the price of the latest flipping Disney sequel, but they can’t knock a tenner off Pom pigging Poko – but I was able to get Laputa and Cogliostro for a veritable song.

(odd fact: Lupin III was partly inspired by the work of Sergio Aragonés)

If any of you were looking for a Next Miyazaki, I’d go for Laputa. Don’t watch the Japanese dub, though. Anna Paquin and James Van Der Beek deliver some…odd, but servicable performances, but the English dub is a mile less shrill than the sugar rush street urchins they kidnapped to do the Japanese track. Also, Mark Hamill!

//\Oo/\\

 
Chris writes:  

“I wondered why Kiki needed to go out on her own,”

Because that’s what witches do.

“…leaving her loving and supportive parents, if all she was going to do was find a replacement mother, in the form of the pregnant (symbolism!) bakery owner. The baker gives her a room, feeds her, gives her minimal chores, and takes care of her while she’s sick. Where’s the self-reliance?”

I think it’s established early on that Kiki actually pays for room and board, but in return for a break in the price she has to help out around the bakery. As for taking care of her while she’s sick, wouldn’t you?

“I wondered what kind of disturbed mind decides to homage the Hindenburg disaster in a film otherwise suitable for children…Certainly, animation isn’t only for kids, but this film, with its young girl heroine in its otherwise comfortable structure, will certainly attract them as viewers.”

I’d be shocked to meet a kid who would get, let alone be affected by, the homage. To be honest, the Hindenburg disaster (the “Oh The Humanity!” line in particular) has long been a part of popular culture in the ‘humour’ category. I think it was in Animaniacs 2 or 3 times… I feel like I’m explaining this to a space alien, sorry if this comes off as condescending.

“I’m left unsure at the end exactly why Kiki started losing her powers.”

She stops living a magical life and gets caught up in the drudgery of the day-to-day. It’s also tied to her self-confidence.

“And by the end, I was thoroughly sick of seeing Kiki’s bloomers.”

Enh.

– Chris

 
Michael Denton writes:  

Matthew, it’s not that I dislike Phil Hartman; he was a true comedian. It’s just that his voice is so distinctive, it sometimes took me out of the movie, especially initially.

Mononoke never did it for me. The animation is first-rate and parts of it are genuinelly thrilling, but a large part of it left me completely bored and uninterested. I’ve never quite understood its appeal. To me, Spirited Away is miles better – it rarely has a dull moment.

 
Johnny B writes:  

I remember seeing pictures and footage of the Hindenburg disaster from as far back as my early childhood, and also in school, and this in the 60’s and 70’s- so it’s not exactly like the kids are being exposed to The Devil’s Rejects here.

But I kinda shared your dissatisfaction with the nuts and bolts of the basic story; too often a didn’t always lead to b, which goes back to my concerns about translation veracity in anime. But I still thought there were a lot of charming moments, and it was all very well animated and visually imaginatively presented, which always counts for a lot with me.

 
Johanna writes:  

It was definitely very episodic, almost like strung-together chapters of a series. I hope Ed will add his thoughts here, because we were just talking about this and how it relates to the manga.

And I’m guessing that many kids won’t even recognize the blimp disaster — it just seemed like an odd thing to include, especially in something about the wonders of flight. I guess for today’s generation it’s something like setting up a comic Nazi villain — the horror of the event has been lost in the mists of time.

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

Kiki’s Delivery Service is based on a Japanese children’s book. Thankfully, the book has been translated into English. Like the movie, the book is very eposodic. Miyazaki keep the first two chapters of the book and then wrote his own adventures from there. Miyazaki centered his movie more around Kiki’s ability to fly because of his own love of airplanes and flying. Miyazaki also keep the emotional center of the book about Kiki losing her powers, but the experience and adventure that leads to Kiki regaining her powers is radically different. There is no blimp in the book. I do recommend the book; it’s a delightful read. Unfortunately, none of the author’s other books have been translated as of yet.

One of the things I love about the movie is it’s idealize vision of Europe. It looks like a edenic vision of pre-WWI. All the buildings have character and charm. The people are friendly, open, understanding and helpful. The city is clean, with plenty of gardens and parks.

 
Tico writes:  

I know this is waaaay late but just in case anyone comes across this page in the future I am posting my reply.

“And by the end, I was thoroughly sick of seeing Kiki’s bloomers.”

In Japan, maybe not now, but back in the 70s and 80s for sure as I was living there as a young girl, bloomers are worn over underwear so they are considered more like shorts. I wore them over my underwear if I was wearing skirts or dresses.

So there is a huge misunderstanding by a lot of people who end up thinking that there is a perverted twist to the film just because to an American or European bloomers are the actual underwear.

 
Corrine writes:  

I can hardly remember what happens in this movie but I loved it as a kid and watched it over and over again. It was the dubbed version obviously.

 

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