The adventures of Kiki & Jiji
It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since the initial release of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Though I first saw it in around 2009, it felt timeless even then, as if it had been passed down through generations, and has always somehow existed. But of course, it stands as one of the earliest Ghibli works of Hayao Miyazaki, who has been blessing our screens for the past five decades with his unique cinematic visions. As one of his simplest stories, the film is also one of his most sweet and accessible – anyone can enjoy Kiki…, and I hope that you’ll come away from this review wanting to see it for yourself.
Though the vast majority of Hayao Miyazaki film plots can be classed as streams of consciousness – Howl’s Moving Castle was even written as it was drawn – Kiki’s Delivery Service is most likely the least eventful of his movies. Kiki sets out into the world, broomstick in hand, searching for independence and…we just watch her do it. This doesn’t necessarily sound like the makings of a movie you’d want to sit through on repeat viewings, but the meticulous detail put into the goings-on of Kiki’s daily life flesh out the experience exponentially. She grocery shops, she does her deliveries, she helps a kind old woman bake a fish pie, and every one of these situations is made enthralling by its bewitching presentation.
While Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke have more of an opportunity for spectacle in their visuals, the artistry of here is some of the more quietly lovely in Miyazaki’s oeuvre. Beginning in the sprawling fields of her hometown before proceeding over the deep blue waters to reach the rustic architecture of Kiki’s chosen city, the matte paintings used for the location backdrops are some of the most subtly beautiful in Ghibli’s impressive collection. The character designs are a far cry from what we consider anime girls to look like now: Kiki looks like a normal kid, agile and always ready to go, Ursula has the physicality of a grown-up, independent woman, and the roundness in Osono’s design preempts her kindness throughout the movie.
Much like other Ghibli releases in the West, if you choose to watch this film in English, you’re in for a treat. A very young Kirsten Dunst as Kiki brings joy and enthusiasm to the role without being cutesy or over the top, matching the energy and determination brought by her animation. Even better is the late great Phil Hartman, whose sardonic attitude as Kiki’s cat Jiji is actually a departure in tone from the more self-serious Japanese version – a change that perfectly matches his brand of ironic but never pretentious humour. This voice cast, rounded out by Janeane Garofalo’s intimidatingly confident Ursula and Tress MacNeille’s kind but stern Osono, provides both the comfort of recognisable talent and the level of anonymity that allows so many animations to be entirely immersive.
If you’re already a die-hard Kiki or Studio Ghibli fan, you’ll no doubt be checking out the Amazon page for the collector’s edition once you hear what this set has to offer. Beyond the extras on the Blu-ray version, which contains short documentaries, trailers, and other insights into the creative process like feature-length storyboards, this set also contains a 208-page book of artwork from the film, art cards, a poster, a stylish patch, and an adorable Jiji tea towel. While the price point certainly isn’t for everyone, it’s certainly tempting as a Christmas treat.
Rewatching Kiki’s Delivery Service has always felt like coming home after a long day to me. Watching Kiki set out on her journey of self-discovery at the start of the film sets my pulse racing, watching her feet dangle precariously higher and higher in the sky upon her mother’s old broom with only her cat Jiji for company. But this excitement soon simmers down into warmth and joy, as she finds a home in Osono’s bakery, Ursula’s cabin, and upon Tombo’s bicycle. By re-releasing this near-perfect 2 hours in the 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, I hope that more people are able to experience the optimism and comfort that only Miyazaki and Kiki can provide.
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum