As with last week, we look at another Studio Ghibli film being aired this week on Channel 4. Another one by Hayao Miyazaki as it happens.
Based on a 1985 novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono, Kiki’s Delivery Service was released in 1989, and was one of Studio Ghibli’s most successful films. It was the highest grossing film that year in Japan, and it created a wonderful and charming lead character, who is described in The Anime Encyclopedia: Second Edition by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy as, “a character who deserves to be the patron saint of freelancers, students and motorcycle messengers.”
Set in a seemingly fictionalised European-like land (most likely Sweden given some of written language displayed and the fact that Miyazaki had visited Stockholm in 1971), Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the story of thirteen-year-old Kiki, a girl who is training to be a witch. It is tradition that when a witch turns this age that she should leave home for a year to study further afield. Thus she travels on her flying broomstick with her talking black cat Jiji to find somewhere to live and work. She visits the port town of Koriko, but gets into trouble when flying under a low bridge and causes a traffic accident. During this confusion she meets a boy named Tombo, who admires Kiki’s flying ability, but she has little interest in him.
Kiki struggles to find somewhere to stay, but luck comes her way when a local baker named Osono learns that a customer has left a baby’s dummy in her shop. Kiki uses her flying skills to deliver the dummy to its rightful owner. Osono therefore offers her shelter, and Kiki decides that as her one and only good witchcraft skill is flying that she should put it to good use by setting up a flying delivery service.
The story then sees her trying to make deliveries, slowly becoming friends with Tombo, and witnesses Kiki’s transition from childhood to adolescence, and the consequences of this, which are both happy and sad.
The main theme of Kiki’s Delivery Service appears to be growing up. It is about a child who tries to make her own way in the world, leaving the family home and setting up her own business. The only difference is that she has magical powers. The film is very sweet and heart-warming. In terms of Miyazaki’s pervious out-put before this period, it would be most akin to My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), in that it also has a main female lead and also has no central villain. Kiki might sometimes have snooty customers, but that are not really bad people.
Another interesting aspect is film is the subject of flight. You come to realise that flying is something that occurs throughout Miyazaki’s work. His father was the director of a company that made rudders for Zero fighter aircraft during World War II, and this seems to have stuck a cord. Before Kiki there was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), where the title character’s main transport is a special form of jet-powered glider. Last week we looked at Laputa: Castle in the Sky (No. 121) which features all kinds of strange airships. Later on Miyazaki made a film called Porco Rosso, in which the lead character is a former Word War I Italian fighter-ace who due to a curse is transformed into an anthropomorphic pig, and then his last film, The Wind Rises (No. 73) was a fantasy biography of the man who designed the Zero, the fighter plane Miyazaki’s father helped to provide parts for.
While Kiki’s Delivery Service is a very nice film, it must be said that not everyone was fond of it. There were complaints from conservative Christian groups in the USA who were concerned that this was a film aimed at children where the lead character was a witch. One group, the Concerned Women of America, demanded that people boycotted Disney, the company who released the film in the States, claiming the company was promoting witchcraft. This is of course nonsense.
However, the Americans do provide the saddest element of this fim. In the English language dub, the voice of Jiji the cat was provided by Phil Hartman, famous for his role in The Simpsons, who improvised some lines in the movie. It was his last film role before he was fatally shot in 1998. The English-language dub of the film is thus dedicated to his memory.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Studio Canal. The English-language dub is on Film4 on Tuesday 1st September at 16.20.