June 24, 2009

Kiki's Delivery Service

Posted in Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli at 6:04 pm by j128

Kiki's Delivery Service DVD coverKiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, based on a book of the same name by Eiko Kadono and it was also the first to be released under the Disney/Studio Ghibli contract.

The English version stars Kirsten Dunst as the voice of the eponymous title character, Kiki, a thirteen-year-old witch. I first saw this movie in the English version, before the DVD came out, and after seeing the Japanese version I prefer it over the English version. (Kirsten Dunst’s Kiki screams too often for my liking.)


In accorandance with tradition, when a witch and a man have a child, if it is a girl she will be a witch, and when she is thirteen, on the night of the full moon, she is to leave her home and find a place for herself to establish for a year as part of her witch training.

Kiki is a thirteen-year-old witch and upon hearing there is a full moon one night, she decides it’s time to leave home. Coming along with her on her adventure is her cat companion, Jiji, and she brings her father’s old radio and flies on her mother’s broom. Her mother is the local herbalist, who practices herbal medicine, and she worries about Kiki as she doesn’t know a lot of magic, only seemingly being able to fly a broom (which she is still a novice at) and being able to communicate with Jiji.

Kiki departs, saying farewell to her parents and friends. She flies off, but at first bumps into the trees, and the trees’ bells tinkle, and a person wistfully says that he’ll miss the sound of the bells. As Kiki and Jiji fly over the countryside, they meet another witch-in-training, whose rather snooty – even her cat – who has already found a town and practices fortune telling. As her town comes within sight she says good-bye and goes.

All of a sudden, it begins raining hard, much to the chagrin of Kiki who had heard on the radio that it would be a clear night, and they take shelter in a moving train. When they wake up, they find they had landed in the feeding bag for a herd of cows. They leave and soon find a cheerful little seaside city called Koriko, and there aren’t any witches. Kiki finds it hard to be accepted at the start, especially after the near-accident she causes when she wasn’t paying attention, but she gains acceptance from Osono, one of the owners of a bakery who is heavily pregnant throughout the film, when Kiki delivers a baby’s sucker a customer had forgotten.

Promotional poster by Hayao Miyazaki

Osono takes Kiki under her wing and gives her a home and Kiki starts a delivery business. She learns to deal through her homesickness, rude and ungrateful customers, slow deliveries, misplaced merchandise, etc.

She also develops a relationship with a local boy named Tombo, a relationship that’s a little rocky at first, but she soon becomes friendly and accepting of him. He takes an interest in aviation and he’s also interested in her; almost at the same time Jiji forms a relationship with a female Persian cat named Lily, whom he had disliked at first, and soon has numerous kittens with her, which are all shown near the end of the film.

Perhaps due to neglect, Kiki finds that she’s losing her magic powers – she can’t even communicate with Jiji – and one evening while trying to practice, her broom snaps. A young woman, whose in her late teens named Ursula and an aspiring artist, comes to visit whom Kiki met once during one of her delivery mishaps, and takes Kiki to her summer retreat in the woods. Ursula is almost seen as Kiki’s older sister and she was voiced by the same actress in the Japanese version. While at the retreat, Ursula consoles Kiki and tells her that a similar thing happened to her once (an artist’s block), but she got over it, and tells her also that whatever it is a person’s gift or gifts are – whether it’s painting, witchcraft, or baking bread – must be used and not rejected. In other words, to appreciate it.

Kiki’s magical abilities are restored one afternoon when she uses a street sweeper’s broom in a desperate attempt to rescue Tombo, who is struggling to hold onto a rope several feet above the ground; he had been one of the passengers in the blimp, but an accident had occurred. At the last minute, just as he falls, Kiki saves him, and they gently alight to the ground amid cheering crowds. Meanwhile, while Osano and her husband had been watching what had taken place on the television, she starts to go into labour and in a rush, her husband accidentally spills hot coffee over himself.

Later, we see Kiki flying next to Tombo in his man-powered aviation contraption, and Osano and her husband watching them, with the baby in her husband’s arm. Kiki sends a modest letter to her parents telling them that she’s getting along fine in her new city and she’s starting to like it. In short, she’s become something of a local celebrity as she notices a little girl walking past her on the street who’s wearing an outfit like Kiki’s and complete with the street sweeper’s broom. While it seems that she’s lost her ability to communicate with Jiji, in the English version there is an added line as if to indicate that they understand each other.

Themes of Kiki’s Delivery Service

Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and subsequently Studio Ghibli’s, usually the protagonist goes through a journey of self-discovery, whether it’s recognizing one’s personal strength (Haru, The Cat Returns); a transformation, such as maturity (Chihiro, Spirited Away); or realizing something about oneself (Sophie, Howl’s Moving Castle), the character Kiki also undergoes a journey of self-discovery.

Like all witches, Kiki has to wear a simple black dress, and when she arrives in Koriko, she sees a lovely pair of red shoes in a shop window. As she looks at them, some young teenage girls walk past her, and she wistfully wishes that she were pretty; like Sophie, she doesn’t yet realize that she is pretty. Possibly as part of her witch training and also of her personal experiences of learning how to take care of herself and rely on her own resources, she also gains maturity that’s apparent by the end of the film, and this maturation includes getting over her homesickness, worries, and also overcoming her prejudiced perception of Tombo.


See Wikipedia page > Characters.

Kiki’s Delivery Service Trailer (Japanese)


You can watch Kiki’s Delivery Service, dubbed in English, on YouTube in 10 parts. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Kiki’s Delivery Service – Wikipedia


Jiji and Lily


Ursula's painting


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