Kiki is a thirteen year old witch in-training and she has to spend a year and make a living in a new place on her own as part of her training. Taking her mother’s broom, her father’s radio and her talking cat, Jiji, she flies off and eventually finds the town of Korico, a pleasant seaside town which no which has resided in for many years. Although not given the best of welcomes, she befriends a local baker named Osono, who gives her a place to stay. Since her best talent is flying, Kiki decides to open a delivery service, and while doing her work, meets several other friendly people in the place she hopes not to regret staying in.
The production for Kiki’s Delivery Service began over a week before the double feature release of My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies. The first script was originally written by a young (and as of writing, unnamed) staff member, who was also assigned to be the director. Then producer for the film, Hayao Miyazaki, disliked the script and wrote his own. The young staff member, believed because he was intimidated by the experienced film director, decided to step down, which meant Hayao Miyazaki became the film’s director, as well as the writer and producer. Like previous projects, Joe Hisaishi composed the music, and for the first time, Toshio Suzuki worked on a Studio Ghibli film as the Associate Producer.
For the first time at Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki was directing and writing a direct film adaptation, of the novel by Eiko Kadono, unlike Isao Takahata’s approach of adapting an original novel or manga, Miyazaki only used the original story as the concept of the overall film, and he added scenes not in the original story to produce a more flowing storyline instead of the multiple short stories like a slice-of-life film, as well as emphasise the film’s message of growing up and motivate yourself to achieve your goals in life. Kadono wasn’t happy with these changes, which almost led to the cancellation of production. It wasn’t until she got a chance to see the production of the film and a talk with Toshio Suzuki and Hayao Miyazaki’s explanation of the film’s elements and story that convinced her to let the film’s production go ahead. The film was released over a year later on the 29 July 1989.
The animation in Kiki’s Delivery Service is very standard, but definitely shows effort. Wind is the film’s main element in the animation as a lot of scenes show flowing details of hair and clothes being blown against the wind. The animation on an overall level however, doesn’t reach ground breaking levels, and like other Studio Ghibli animations, this is not a bad thing, it makes the viewer focus on the story, so it doesn’t bother me personally.
The art style is very bright and colourful, especially the town of Korico, which has a brilliantly done seaside/island town feel, like Venice. In fact, Miyazaki took several influences from Venice as well as San Francisco, but mainly Stockholm for the overall design of the town. There are darker looking scenes but it definitely arrives in the right situation and transitions back to the bright environment very smoothly. One issue that I find when watching my copy of the film (and I guess it’s on the US copies too) is that some scenes have translated text (mainly the opening and final credit sequences) are obviously taken from another low quality source, possibly the Streamline dub of the film back in the early 90s but it’s very distracting since none of the other films have this issue.
The music is nice but it’s underplayed, so it doesn’t give a lasting impression on me. Joe Hisaishi definitely composed some nice melodies, as well as a great use of instruments to help the environment of the scene, like the Concertina playing during the bright and sunny town scenes. Despite this, there are a lot more quite moments that help focus on the dialogue, and not many scenes that take advantage of the music.
This is one of the few anime films I almost always want to see in English, I don’t have problems with the Japanese audio, but the English version I feel is somewhat superior. The characters put more energy in their roles and the film’s comedy is well timed and Phil Hartman as Jiji is a lot funnier to listen to compared to Rei Sakuma. Other voice actors like Matthew Lawrence as Tombo and Janeane Garofalo as Ursula feel somewhat superior to the Japanese cast, but I wouldn’t recommend not watching the Japanese version before saying if you agree or disagree with my opinion.
The story overall is very basic, and when the plot involves teenage witch starting a delivery service, it’s for the best. It could count as a different kind of “whole new world” element like Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, except on a more realistic approach, probably like someone going to a new city or country far from home. With that in mind the film ends up quite intriguing, and makes me wonder if the original author or Miyazaki himself based the story partly on real life feelings during their teenage years, it’s only a possibility but you know a film’s story is good when it makes you think outside the box.
Another interesting thing about the film is like I said earlier, Miyazaki added scenes such as the dramatic moments to the original story. While I have never read the original story, the scene certainly help the progression of the film, gives a mixed balance of happy and sad scenes, as well as develop Kiki’s character so we can understand her and what she goes through. However, if I was to nit-pick then this would lead to my only problem of this film, and that is the film focuses too much on Kiki. I know that is obvious when she is the title character, but when I first watched this film I almost knew nothing about the other characters other than their names and who they are, and if I tried to explain them all, it would be very brief. This is only a minor problem, this is still a great film and if it were possible, I would give it 4.5 stars for not being near-perfect, but a film that can be watched many times without any change of opinion.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is available from Walt Disney and Optimum Releasing. The original novel by Eiko Kanodo was translated by Lynne Riggs and released by Annick Press, but I guess it’s out of print since I’ve found new copies for sale for ridiculously high prices. Kanodo has since later released five sequel novels subtitled “Kiki and Her New Magic”, “Kiki and Another Witch” and “Kiki’s Love”, “Perch of Magic” and “Each and Every Departure” the later four taking place some years after the original story. Sadly, none of these sequels have been officially translated, so good luck trying to find an English version if you are interested. Apparently Disney is working on a live action version of the film, but since it was first announced back in 2005, it’s probably through development hell, despite the apparent 2011 release.