KIKI, JE T’AIME
Released By Studio Ghibli
Article by Abbey Archer
In 1989, Japan was bestowed another animated darling from master director, Hayao Miyazaki. In 1998, America brought the film to a wider audience. And in 2017, it was re-released in cinemas for us folks who grew up with it. I’m talking, of course, about KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. As one of these kids who grew up watching it on the Disney Channel, I went to see it at the theatre to experience it with other like-minded lovers on the big screen, finally fulfilling something I’d wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do before. Because it holds such a special place in so many hearts (mine included), this is where I declare unconditional adoration and appreciation for its existence.
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE follows our titular character, a thirteen-year-old witch who leaves her home to become independent and make her way in the world with whatever skill she cultivates. Along with her black cat, Jiji, she settles in a city by the sea and starts a delivery service with the help of new friends — albeit with some hiccups along the way. Between joyful humor, lovable characters, and exceptional animation — which is to be expected from any Studio Ghibli outing — it’s a fun watch for any age. Obviously, this description I’ve given is simplifying the plot, as the film and story have much more meat on its bones, bringing real depth and introspection to its viewers.
Kiki gives us a rich world that makes audiences want to live in. The town by the ocean, Koriko, bears a strong resemblance to Stockholm and San Francisco; the timeline, as stated by Miyazaki himself, is in a Europe where the two World Wars never took place. The characters are incredibly endearing: Osono is the pregnant bakery owner who takes Kiki under her motherly wing; Ursula meets Kiki through her first delivery venture and acts as the fun yet wise aunt to her; Tombo, the nerdy boy obsessed with aviation, is sweet to — and on — Kiki, helping her see him as more than a typical dope; and of course, there’s Jiji, the smart-cracking, dry-as-toast cat companion to Kiki, voiced to English audiences by SNL legend, Phil Hartman. (Not to knock down the original Japanese cast, which are all great in their own right.) Jiji is definitely up there with Totoro and Ponyo as Studio Ghibli’s cutest characters ever.
Kiki is a wonderful heroine to follow, and what’s more, there’s a real character arc here. She’s bright and eager, ready to help and take on the world with enthusiastic glee. Hardworking, multi-skilled, and genuinely a nice person, but she’s also stubborn and self-conscious, grudging over her drab black dress and appearance as she stares longingly at a pretty pair of shoes in a window display. She is, after all, still just a teenager, and while she truly feels a sense of happiness when she’s helping others, she longs for acceptance with people her age. We’ve all been there; we can relate to this (If you haven’t been there, good for you, you liar.) We’ve all been that awkward kid trying to look cool to our peers, fighting against our quirks that may seem hindering to us. And when you see Kiki going through the same thing, your heart really goes out to her. You just want to give her a hug and say, “You are amazing! This will all get better!”
An important thing to take away from this film is that it offers children in this day and age a different take on a kids-centric animated film. It’s becoming more and more common these days that animated movies be filled with constant noise and overstimulation, which is definitely something that gets old real quick. With KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, however, it has a lot of quiet to it; the film relies on the flow of its plot: excitement, lull, excitement, lull. Not to say those lulls in between the movement are boring — clearly, they’re not. But it’s those quieter moments of character development that bring realism to the whole thing. And you can’t say that kids won’t enjoy the film because of this seemingly inconsistent flow. But isn’t that how life is sometimes? Just because a kids’ film isn’t constantly showy and going 1,000 miles an hour doesn’t mean they’ll be bored by it as a whole. Much like Pixar’s film catalog, it’s the downtime moments of the plot that help fuel the excitement and action when it gets going. The same is true with KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE.
In the end, Kiki and her adventure is timeless. She is one for the books, deserving to be up there on the top tier of great film role models, due to her resilience, kindness, hardworking attitude, and love of life. I hope that my son (and future kids) will love this film as much as I do, and I hope he will grow to be someone like Kiki because we need more kids like her. Thank you, Hayao Miyazaki, for bringing us such a lovely film. One that will continue to enchant children and adults alike for years to come. And thank you, Kiki, for being such an inspirational figure to kids everywhere. We love you.