Kiki’s Delivery Service mixes fantasy and everyday struggles in a genius way as a young teenage girl tries to find her place in the world and discover who she is. Miyazaki’s love for the element of air is once again visible in this 1989 anime classic where he portrays the sweet story of a girl learning about growing up. Even if you have never heard of this Studio Ghibli movie, it is never too late to enter this world where witches and modern society co-exist.
Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of Kiki, a little witch who has to leave home for a year when she turns 13 to begin her solo witch training. Accompanied by Jiji, her talking cat, and her broomstick, she searches for a new town where she can settle and find out who she is.
Plot & Story
Kiki is caught between excitement and premature nostalgia. When she turns 13 she knows that her departure time is approaching. She’s impatient and feels as ready as it gets to be on her own -or so she thinks-. Before she leaves, she asks her dad to hug her and toss her in the air as he used to when she was a child. The reason Kiki requests this because deep inside she is scared for the big changes awaiting her. She needs to know that no matter what changes are ahead, some things will always be the same, and the love of her parents is one of those things. At night, she grabs her broomstick and finally arrives in Koriko.
Kiki’s life in her new town, Koriko, makes her realize that finding yourself is not as easy as it sounds. Her transition to adulthood had just began. After she left behind what was familiar, she has to learn about independence. She is fearless, enthusiastic, hardworking and -like most teenage girls- she has a temper. When she arrives at Koriko (which is architecturally inspired by north European cities) with her mother’s old broomstick and her talking cat Jiji, a geeky boy named Tombo approaches her. I think Miyazaki expressed himself and many of his desires through Tombo. Tombo admitted to Kiki that he’d love to fly and he’s jealous of the ones who can, and even built a flying-bike by himself. Although he’s a great guy, he sucks at flirting but he’s worth a chance. I admired Tombo’s patience towards Kiki but I also felt a little annoyed. He surely saw something beautiful in her, but I don’t even know why she was so angry with him at the first place.
At the new town, Kiki realizes that nothing is going to be easy. The majority of people is not familiar with witches. Flying -especially between cars- can cause many problems (the presence of the air element is strong in this movie since, except the talking cat, the only form of magic presented is flying). In a big modern city where old witch customs are unknown, it seemed impossible for a 13-year-old to find a place to live without her parents. But Kiki’s polite heart won a -very- pregnant baker woman who offered to give her a room in exchange for helping her. Not long after that, Kiki starts her own business, a flying delivery service. She struggles to survive at first, but she doesn’t lose her strength, and instead of crying, she works even harder, proving that with hard work you can achieve everything. At times she felt very lonely and jealous of the other teens who don’t have to work and are able to party all day and wear whatever they want; she has to work and wear only an old-fashioned black dress. Kiki loves bright colors, but she chooses to follow her roots and the witch tradition out of respect for her mother and to what she represents. But she adds her personal style with a huge red bow on her head. The plot at this point unfolds extremely slowly, and I got a little bored watching Kiki’s everyday life.
By the end, Kiki’s eventual transformation goes through a maelstrom of loss and self-doubt, because while trying to be loved and accepted for who she really is, she comes across a huge crisis. Not only she loses her confidence – because she feels too different from everyone-, she also loses her flying ability AND her talking-to-Jiji ability. Total disaster. When this happens, Kiki suffers and thus begins a race to find a solution. After many unsuccessful attempts to win her magic back ( and after breaking her mother’s broomstick), her hippie friend gives her some great advice. Kiki has to consider why she wants to fly, discover the true reason and purpose. And the reason is her helpful spirit. She truly enjoys being useful, so when Tombo is close to death by being involved in a zeppelin crash, Kiki has no other option than to regain her ability and save him, becoming one strong female character who actually saves the men around her from certain doom. Her magic was inside her all the time, she had never lost it. Best of all, she will never feel alone again because she is part of Osono’s family, Tombo’s group, and the cute old ladies crew. She now belongs to this new city, and who knows what adventures lies ahead!
By the end of the film, there is a great symbolism. Kiki has lost what connected her with her childhood, her broom and the ability to talk to Jiji, showing that she is coming on her own as a woman without losing her innocence.
Art and music
The soundtrack is composed by Joe Hisaishi, a good friend of Miyazaki, who is the genius behind the music in many Studio Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke and Castle in The Sky. The music is very soft and sweet, you can sense it in the background, and makes the movie even greater. Disney’s English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service was changed in many bits, which have been roved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. There is a number of additions and embellishments to the film’s musical score and several lavish sound effects over sections that are silent in the Japanese original.
The artwork is amazing and in the original Studio Ghibli style: detailed landscapes, expressive faces, and carefully picked colors. The visual style is about the beauty of surroundings and not the ugliness that can sometimes be out there. It is a real pleasure to watch -and hear- this movie.
Themes and Trivia
Kiki’s Delivery Service is based on the children’s fantasy novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono (first published on 25 January 1985 by Fukuinkan Shoten), but Miyazaki made numerous changes before the release. He added crisis (the lost flying ability), loneliness, and many everyday struggles. Kadono was unhappy with the changes, to the point that the project was in danger of being shelved at the screenplay stage, but fortunately, it didn’t. This film won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize and was the first Studio Ghibli true blockbuster, becoming the highest-grossing film in Japan in 1989 and also finding an audience overseas. The film’s popularity even extended to the novel it was based on, inspiring author Eiko Kadono to write many sequels about Kiki’s other exploits. It was the first film released under a 15-year distribution partnership between The Walt Disney Company and Studio Ghibli.
The word takkyūbin (宅急便, literally ‘home-fast-mail’) in the Japanese title is a trademark of Yamato Transport, though it is used today as a synonym for takuhaibin (宅配便, ‘home-delivery-mail’). The company not only approved the use of its trademark in the film but also enthusiastically sponsored it as the company uses a stylized depiction of a black cat carrying her kitten as its corporate logo.
Finally, I would like to mention a fan theory which supports that Mr. and Mrs. Osono are actually Sosuke and -now human- Ponyo who ended up together. And they indeed look alike.
For more facts about Kiki’s Delivery Service read this awesome article written by Mokugyo:
7 Intriguing Trivia About ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a film with simple people and mostly simple life situations. These things might seem manageable to an adult, but for a teenager are quite difficult. The character development in this film is great and the plot is modest yet interesting. I like the emphasis given in Kiki’s up and downs and in her character. Kiki is not an ordinary hero. She has many flaws but still manages to be lovable and save the day. You watch her grow up while having to fulfill her purpose. She doesn’t know what she’s meant to be, but she won’t stop until she finds out. And this youthful, pure faith is true magic.
It’s not really important what color your dress is. What matters is the heart inside!
- Kiki’s supportive parents
- Kiki’s first flight (reminded me of my first driving experience)
- Tombo’s patience
- All the other cats
- The new (and modern) broomstick
- The awful granddaughter
- Kiki’s bad mood
This film is a passage into adulthood. From the innocent eyes of a young teenager, we remember how hard growing up was. After leaving a loving family and a protective home, Kiki suddenly realizes that no one owes you anything and you have to struggle to gain simple things such as respect and kindness. All these wonderful feelings will make you watch this movie again and again.