Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s a Hayao Miyazaki film – instant 10/10.
Oh, okay, I’ll do it properly.

Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a young witch in training who, on her 13th birthday, sets off from her quiet little village to gain new experiences in the wider world. But she soon finds that life in the big city isn’t as easy as it seems, and finds herself facing all sorts of hardships as she sets up her own flying delivery service.

As Kiki tries to adapt to her new lifestyle we see her display a range of emotions, and it becomes apparent that hers is a complex character indeed. As the film progresses we see many different facets of her personality – sometimes she is plucky and optimistic, sometimes she is lonely and depressed, sometimes she lets jealousy get the better of her – but this all adds up to make her a very human, very real, character, just as flawed and vulnerable as the rest of us. The supporting cast is also well put together, with a variety of different personalities, from the motherly Osono to the flight-obsessed Tombo.

Much of the films charm comes from the fact that there are no big villains, no evil forces trying to destroy the world – just a girl trying to get by in life, making the most of what she has. In many ways, this is Miyazaki’s most down-to-earth film, and many people will relate to Kiki’s experiences as she learns to cope with life in unfamiliar surroundings.

Despite being more than fifteen years old, the film still looks gorgeous. The colour palette is rich and varied, the lines are strong and confident, and the animation consistently superb. The detailing of the backgrounds borders on obsessive, with so many little touches crammed into them that each one almost becomes a work of art of its own. The city itself is an idyllic amalgam of different European architecture, which lends it a really cosmopolitan and authentic 50’s feel, and the sense of scale and detail, as well as the hustle and bustle of the streets, all help make it seem more like a real place. It’s certainly one place I wouldn’t mind spending a holiday or two.

The dub is a decent enough effort, and with the production overseen by Disney there are a few recognizable names on the credits. Kirsten Dunst plays the title character, and gives a good -if slightly uneven- performance, at some times giving her lines just the right feeling and delivery, at others sounding clumsy and forced. But it’s Phil Hartman, better known for his roles in The Simpsons, who steals the show with a brilliantly deadpan performance as talking black cat Jiji, in what is sadly his last role.

Of course, Disney’s influence is something of a double-edged sword, and a couple of (very minor) changes were made to make more suitable for the Disney Channel. Most noticeable is that the dub script deviates a bit from the original in a number of places, with additional lines where there used to be silence. The songs were also replaced by original English numbers, and the typeface used on the opening and closing credits is a hideous cartoon-style font that looks incredibly out of place. Purists will of course bemoan these changes, but they don’t really detract from the film, and you can always watch the original version intact.

In Summary

Behind all the magic and flying brooms, Kiki’s Delivery Service is charming coming-of-age tale that will strike a chord or two in many hearts. Although it’s not filled with riotous laughter or explosive eye-candy, it is a captivating look at one girl’s magical everyday life. This film helped cement Miyazaki’s reputation as one of the premier Japanese film talents, and remains essential viewing for any anime fan.

9 / 10