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Published on November 26th, 2014 | by Totoro

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Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service was an animated movie directed by the world acclaimed animator, Hayao Miyazaki. The story was based on Eiko Kadono’s novel of the same title. It was the first major success of Studio Ghibli, which attracted over 2.6 million spectators, and has a box-office of 2.17 billion yen. Rather than following the explicit and epic route of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Miyazaki made Kiki a heart-warming story of a little girl, about her struggle of growth and independence. One may be surprised that a movie can be built on no antagonist. Even so, it is still highly entertaining and enjoyable, with values and meanings that are by no means less than its predecessors.

1. Brief introduction and summary
At the start of the story, Kiki is a cheerful 13-year-old girl who has to leave her warm home to complete her training as a witch. Though she is regarded as a witch, she is no different with other girls of her age, except that she knows how to fly on a broom. As soon as she reaches the city of Koriko, her clumsiness nearly causes a traffic accident. During her training in the foreign city, she starts a home-delivery business, yet she has to face with various problems. When the story goes on, she even has to lose two of the essential elements of her life as a witch: her magic of flying and her ability of communicating with Jiji, her familiar. Eventually she overcomes all the obstacles by her kind-heart and will power.

One of the central themes of the story is personal growth. Kiki starts out as a little innocent girl who knows nothing about the outside world. She takes her only ability of flying as something granted, and tends to determine the worth of something by its outward appearance. She is also not very sociable and does not like to get along with teenagers of her age. Her delivery-work not only helps her to realize the beauty of the city and the people around her, the crises she encounters actually helps her to grow from a “child in the cradle” to a young working adult.

2. The theme
The loss of flying magic and the ability to understand Jiji makes her to have doubts about the worth of her work, the worth of her magical ability, and the worth of her own self. For the first time in her life, she tries to assess and understand the real meaning of her job and her power. The breaking of her mother’s broom also symbolizes that she is no longer a child under parental protection. She has to solve all the problems by herself, without Jiji or her mother’s broom. Eventually, she succeeds in recognizing the real meaning of worth, and the worth of herself. She overcomes her fear and uncertainty by her faith and will power. That is how she gains back her own self and her identity, not only as a witch, but also as a valuable member of the society. By the end, Kiki becomes a popular and likeable person in the town. Those who despised her are now her friends. She is as happy as she used to be, but she is not a little girl anymore.

3. The messages
Besides the touch on self-growth, there are other subtle messages in the movie. Unlike the other magic girl animations and TV series, “magic” in Kiki’s Delivery Service is presented as nothing more than a usual talent, like the talent of an artist or a baker. Being talented does not mean that you are unique or having an easy life. It is not something granted and can be lost, unless you try your best to understand it and develop its potential. It may even be a responsibility instead of an advantage. In Kiki’s case, flying not only makes her to stand out from other girls, but also brings her loneliness, and leads her towards independence.

Another message is that, not being talented, or having a talent that fails to meet one’s expectation can still have a happy and worthwhile life. Tombo is just another boy at Kiki’s age. He is an aviation nut but has no talent on flying. He finds his worth and value through building his own man-powered “plane”. Though he failed at first, he keeps up his faith and confidence, and eventually succeeds in building a real plane. In present days, people tend to derive the worth and values of a person from his talents, fame or success, but what really matters is the attitude towards life. There is no definite equal sign between “being happy” and “being famous/talented/successful”. Yet people just focus too much on the latter and end up losing the former, which is in fact a more important element of life.

A good attitude is not only a means to happiness, but also a means to success. In the story, Madam calls Kiki to deliver a pie to her granddaughter, but the electric stove fails to work and the pie cannot be cooked. Instead of sitting and doing nothing, Kiki actively offers help to cook the pie by the traditional stove. What she succeeds in earning is the friendship of Madam and Bertha.

4. Realism
The beauty of Kiki lies on its high degree of realism, with its peaceful coexistence with the fantasy elements. Actually, the only fantasy element in the movie is Kiki’s flying magic. All the other things, the sceneries, the people, and the struggle of growth itself, are truthful presentations of the real life. The characters are three-dimensional and fully-developed. The viewers can see the characters as a whole, as real persons, instead of just one or two sides of their characters.

Outwardly, Kiki is a cheerful and modest girl, but deep inside, she is full of doubts and questions about herself and her worth. For example, in the scene of the sudden encounter with the three trendy girls, the viewers can see how Kiki’s mood changes by 180 degrees, and how she shrinks inside her dull, non-fashionable, boring black dress. As for the story of growth, many of us have gotten pass the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. Therefore we can see a reflection of ourselves inside Kiki: self-doubt, lack of confidence, and clumsiness to a certain degree. By seeing Kiki, we can recall how we felt when we started to be independent, and when we had to face a major difficulty all by ourselves for the first time.

Furthermore, many of the scenes vividly illustrates the feelings and attitudes of the teenagers, like the scene of the boring afternoon in the bakery, and the scene of Kiki going down to the washroom in the morning (which depicts the mixed feelings of fear and embarrassment towards unfamiliar people). Even for the younger viewers, they can share the joy and sorrow of Kiki, as the problems she encounters may also be their own problems taking alternate forms (like moving to new schools).

Senses of realism are also illustrated in the other parts of the movie. Koriko is highly realistic as a fictional city. It is drawn with great details, with elements from various world cities, like Stockholm, Paris, Naples, Amsterdam and even San Francisco. One of its shores faces the Baltic Sea, while the other coast faces the Mediterranean Sea. As for the flight scenes, they are truly stunning. Although the magic of flying itself does not exist in reality, the movie shows us what really would be like if a girl could fly on a broom. We can feel the breeze running across our face when Kiki is flying. We can sense how high Kiki is flying when we see a plane flying *far* below her. When Kiki tries her best to balance on the deck brush, you can sense her weight and her “ki” (mental/spiritual power). Actually, all the traits of realism contribute in shortening the movie’s distance from our daily life, and help us to be more absorbed into it.

5. Comparisons and conclusion
Some people feel that Kiki is not as good as other Miyazaki works. Nonetheless, one should aware that no movie on earth can appeal to everyone. In fact, it may not meet the expectations of some people, especially if they are not fond of movies about personal growth and relationship, and are seeking for movies that have more thrilling plots (like Laputa: Castle in the Sky) or an epic nature (like Princess Mononoke or Nausica� of the Valley of the Wind). Even so, one thing is absolutely certain. With all the essences previously mentioned, Kiki is by no means a pointless film. It has achieved a high artistic level, and its content is definitely as deep and as meaningful as the other Miyazaki works. For those who think that the movie is shallow, if they could put down their prejudice, open their hearts, and spend some time to watch the movie again, they could definitely sense its subtlety and appreciate its beauty.

Info & Credits

Title Kiki’s Delivery Service
Japanese Title 魔女の宅急便
Japanese Title Majo no takkyubin (Witch’s Delivery Service)
Release Date 1989
Rated G
Duration 1 hr 43 min

The characters

 image003 Kiki
A 13-year-old witch. Kiki is best described as upbeat, outspoken, and a little naïve. An old witch’s custom is that when a witch turns 13, she must spend a year away from her parents to prove herself. Kiki has been looking forward to the trip since her birthday. For the trip, she travels to Koriko, a seaside town. Her only good skill is her ability to fly.
image004 Jiji
Kiki’s pet black cat and best friend. He is her only companion to Koriko. Kiki seems to be the only one who can talk to Jiji. Jiji is comments on Kiki’s actions and balances out her slight recklessness by suggesting safer options. He is best described as cautious.
 image005 Tombo
A boy who lives in Koriko. Tombo loves to fly. He’s fascinated by Kiki since she can fly on her broom with ease. He’s a member of a flight club and has been working on a bicycle with a propeller on it, which he hopes will fly. He travels either with a group of boys his age in a beat-up car or on his bicycle. He’s friendly, funny, and punctual.
 image006 Ursula
A young painter. Ursula lives by herself in a forest near Koriko. She paints pictures of things from nature, such as crows and trees. She’s very friendly, cheerful, and knows a lot about how people’s minds work.
 image007 Mrs. Osono
A baker who lives in Koriko. Mrs. Osono is Kiki’s first real friend in Koriko. She and her husband run a bakery. Mrs. Osono is heavily pregnant throughout the film. She’s amiable and kind.
 image008 Mr. Osono
Mrs. Osono’s husband, of course. Mr. Osono is almost entirely silent. From his actions, we can tell that he’s hard-working and thoughtful.
 image009 Kokiri
Kiki’s mother is a witch. She specializes in making potions. Kiki attempted to make her own broom for the trip to Koriko, but she ended up using her mother’s broom instead.
 image010 Okino
Kiki’s father is of non-magical lineage. He is very affectionate to his daughter.
 image011 Madame
Madame is one of Kiki’s customers, and the only one to ask for her services more than once. She is very kind and thoughtful. She likes baking pies and cakes for her friends and relatives.
 image012 Barsa
A woman who lives with Madame. Barsa enjoys watching general panic and chaos.
 image013 Madame’s Granddaughter
Madame’s granddaughter is a member of Tombo’s flight club. She is cordial to her friends, but indifferent to strangers and ungrateful for other’s hard work if it doesn’t benefit her.
 image014 Kiki’s first customer
The first customer of Kiki’s delivery service. She is a clothes designer and owns Lily. She is generous and pretty, according to Kiki.
 image015 Clock Tower caretaker
The first person Kiki encounters in her new town. He tells her that she’s the only witch to come there for a long time.
 image016 Miss Dora
A friend of Kiki’s mother. Kiki’s mother supplies her with a potion which treats her rheumatism.
 image017 Lily
Kiki’s first customer’s cat. She initially dislikes Jiji, but they eventually develop a close relationship.

Production Credits

Director Hayao Miyazaki
Original Work Eiko Kadono
Screenplay (JP) Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay and Adaptation (US) Jack Fletcher, John Semper
Executive Producers Morihisa Takagi, Yasuyoshi Tokuma, Mikihiko Tsuzuki, Jane Schonberger (US)
Producers Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki, Jane Schonberger (US)
Original Music (JP) Joe Hisaishi
Original Music (US) Paul Chihara
Theme Songs (JP) Yumi Arai (“Rouge no Dengon” – Message of Rouge, “Ysashisa ni Tsusumaretanata”)
Theme Songs (US) Sydney Forest (“Soaring,” “I’m Gonna Fly”)
Casting (US) Jack Fletcher
Cinematography Shigeo Sugimura
Editing Takeshi Seyama
Production Design Hinoshi Ono
Production Manager Eiko Tanaka
Art Director Hiroshi Ohno
Sound Engineer Shuji Inoue
Sound Effects Kazutoshi Sato
Special Effects Kaoru Tanifuji

Voice Casting

Character English Japanese
Kiki Kirsten Dunst Minami Takayama
Ursula Janeane Garofalo Minami Takayama
Jiji Phil Hartman Rei Sakuma
Tombo Matthew Lawrence Kappei Yamaguchi
Osono Tress MacNeille Keiko Toda
Kokiri (Mother) Kath Soucie Mieko Nobusawa
Okino (Father) Jeff Bennett Koichi Miura
Madame Debbie Reynolds Haruko Kato
Bertha Edie McClurg Hiroko Seki
Young Senior Witch Debi Derryberry Yuko Kobayashi
Ket Pamela Segall Yuriko Fuchizaki
Ket’s Mother Julia DeMita Mika Doi
Ket’s Father ??? Takaya Hashi
Dirigible Captain John Hostetter Akio Otsuka
Clocktower Caretaker ??? Tomomichi Nishimura
Birthday Girl Sherry Lynn Keiko Kagimoto
Hotel Receptionist Matthew K. Miller Shinpachi Tsuji

Kiki’s Delivery Service Trailer

Screenshots from the movie
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