Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kiki's Delivery Service - A Witch's Coming of Age

Kiki's Delivery Service: Why Do So Many Anime Films Have Talking Cats?

Kiki's Delivery Service
"Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989).
Even witches have to grow up, and it turns out that there are certain rules they have to follow. One of those, according to "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989), directed by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, is for the girl to spend the year after her 13th birthday on her own. This causes all sorts of problems for our heroine, Kiki. This is loosely based on a children's book by Eiko Kadono, but so much is different that Kadono almost didn't let it get filmed.

Kiki and Jiji Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Kiki and Jiji.
Kiki is the daughter of the resident herbalist. Her only companion is her cat, Jiji, who can talk to Kiki and give her occasional advice. Kiki picks a nice night with a full moon to leave, but it starts to rain and she has to wait it out in a train car.

Kiki looks for a city that needs a witch and heads off to Koriko, a seaside city in a 1960s Europe that did not experience World War I or II (thought that really has nothing to do with the story).

Kiki flying Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Kiki enjoying flying.
Kiki has problems at first, as she has difficulty flying straight. She causes an accident and almost gets a ticket from an unsympathetic cop, but then someone causes a distraction and she manages to escape. The person who helped her is Tombo, but Kiki is so embarrassed that she ditches him. Tombo, though, continues pursuing her.

Father and Kiki Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Daddy loves you.
Kiki then meets Osono, a big-hearted pregnant lady who runs the local bakery. Osono offers her a place to stay above her bakery in exchange for helping out. Kiki then works on gaining some friends. Because her only special ability is to be able to fly on a broomstick, never having learned potions from her mother, she starts her own business: Kiki's Delivery Service.

Jiji on a shelf Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
I like this one, with the cat on it.
The delivery service goes well at first, but Kiki has some difficulties getting along with the other kids, who sneer at her and ignore her. Having always to wear the black robes of a witch makes her seem frumpy. Even Jiji gets snubbed by a fluffy white cat.  She becomes so discouraged that she loses her ability to speak to Jiji, and also her ability to fly on her broomstick.

Kiki and Tombo Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Kiki and Tombo meet.
Kiki decides to spend some time with her friend Ursula, whom she met during her deliveries. Ursula lives in the country. Ursula is an artist who painted Kiki's portrait. The two discuss the nature of special powers and why you might lose them, and also how you might be able to get them back. Kiki comes to the realization that her powers might not be gone forever, but may in fact return.

Flying by clock Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Flying by a clock.
After Kiki returns to Koriko, there is a dangerous accident involving an airship. Tombo is in danger, and only Kiki can save him. She has to act quickly, so she borrows a broomstick from someone on the street and flies off to avert the accident.

With all that happens, Kiki matures and develops confidence in herself. She becomes comfortable in Koriko and is happy to tell her parents that everything is working out.

Delivering a package Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Delivering a package window-to-window.
Hayao Miyazaki has done a lot of great work for Studio Ghibli, such as "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke," and this is among his best. The animation is of high quality, and the flying scenes, in particular, are breathtaking. There is no villain in the film and nothing really scary, it only deals with a teenage girl and her problems, which may not seem too important, but are very important to her. Kiki learns to have faith in herself, which is what being on your own requires. She becomes mature during the course of the story and it becomes a voyage of self-discovery more than anything to do with witches.

Kiki flying with Jiji Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Jiji hanging on for dear life!
Because there is a wise-cracking cat, it is easy to draw comparisons with "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." It is possible Hartman received his inspiration for his performance from that show, but otherwise, there doesn't seem to be any relationship whatsoever. The music varies between versions, but the different versions generally get good reviews.

Kiki practicing flying Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
This isn't so hard!
There have been several versions of this, all with different voice actors. The one English speakers are most likely to see has Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, Phil Hartman as Jiji, Debbie Reynolds as Madame, Janeane Garofolo as Ursula, and Matthew Lawrence playing Tombo. Hartman, in particular, is the lightning rod, either you like his bombastic approach or you don't. In the Japanese version, Jiji is quiet and almost shy, and that most definitely is not the way Hartman plays him (besides the fact that the Japanese version has a female cat!).

DVD cover Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
The cat is a shy little thing in the original, but not in Hartman's version.
The cat character has more of an impact by being loud and funny, so most people will probably enjoy Hartman's version, though of course there will be those who think he should have been quiet and reverential and humble and all that - there is always the original to watch if it is that important to you.

Generally, it comes down to which version you saw first, that is the one your mind will register as "authentic" and is the one you will prefer. For fans of Hartman, this was a fitting final performance, since he got his start as a graphics artist and was well-known as a voice man. The production was lucky to get him.

first delivery stuffed cat Kiki's Delivery Service 1989
Kiki's first delivery, a stuffed cat that looks like Jiji.
The biggest complaint you probably will have with this film is that it ends too quickly after the climactic airship disaster. Leaving the audience wanting more is an old show business trick, and that's a good feeling to have. If you like coming-of-age stories, this is a very good one.


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