Monday, January 12, 2009

Kiki's Delivery Service

Bringing Miyazaki Week to a close is Kiki's Delivery Service. When I first realized I was going to have a theme week, I thought that it would give me a platform to talk about animation, Japan, dubs vs. subs, Disney and all manner of other tangentially related topics. And I was tempted to try to shoehorn those things in there on multiple occasions. So it's a credit to these films that I decided that doing so would just be distracting from the matter at hand, the beautiful films that absolutely everyone should see.

Coming of age stories are common because the experience is universal. Everyone understands what it's like to be 13 and not quite popular, not quite mature, and yet wishing you were both. So that's probably why everyone and their dog has taken a crack at it. So, for a film to be a coming of age story and good besides, it's got to be special and different in some way.

Kiki's Delivery Service makes the story about a witch, going out on her own for the first time at 13, somewhat uncomfortable with being a witch and different, and like any young kid not completely confident in herself. So, a coming of age story then. But why is it so special?

It's Miyazaki, that's why it's so special! Well, that's simplifying things a lot, but the fact is that very few other directors could spin a pretty standard story like this into an absolutely beautiful and absorbing movie like this. So how does he do it?

First step, he has a gift for making likable, believable characters. Kiki is immensely charming, making it easy to identify with her and her plight. Her wisecracking cat is amusing and a nice cynical contrast to her initial optimism. The baker she meets and who becomes like a mother, her friend the painter who coaches her through a spot of angst, her enthusiastic would-be suitor, they're all beautifully captured characters. As a result, you care about what happens to these people, and get wrapped up into the storyline. The disappointment Kiki feels when a gift she and her friends worked very hard on isn't well received is felt by the viewer as well, as you've watched them work, and genuinely like them too.

Second step, he doesn't worry about having villains and obvious conflict. A lesser man would probably try to put some sort of foe that Kiki has to best in order to overcome her problems. Here, there isn't one. There's conflict sure, and a dramatic conclusion, but there's no evil. And yet, it manages to be all the more satisfying than if it did. See, Kiki succeeds to defeat her flaws, and her own lack of confidence. So when she manages to overcome those problems, you feel better about it because it's a problem every one of us has faced, and we've grown to like her and hope for her success. It would be easier to have her beat a cackling baddie, but it wouldn't be worth as much.

Third step, he makes it pretty. Like usual, the animation is absolutely stunning, the art direction is fantastic, and the music is mostly great. But really, that could describe any film from Studio Ghibli. Actually, in the pretty department contains the few flaws. Precisely, two flaws, the opening theme and the closing theme. Very cheesy, very 80s, very bad. Luckily, those are only two songs in an overall amazing soundtrack. Well, one of the songs sounds very similar to the theme used in the shops in the first Final Fantasy, a song I've grown to hate as I played that game and heard it blasting far too loudly in NES synth, but that's not the movie's fault, is it?

As a result, we get a movie that does what every movie should, it makes you happy. Watch it, and you're glad that you're watching it, maybe even thinking about watching it again in the near future. And you can go in depth all you want, but that's all you really need in a film, isn't it?

Screen taken at 55:07


  1. I really want to see this film! It's at the top of my sister's Christmas list, and I have been looking for it so I can buy it for her. Thing isn't really in stores, I guess. Also yeah we're doing Christmas a couple of months late this year ha ha.

  2. I'm surprised that it's hard to find, the print was done by Disney, and Disney does huge runs.

    It's worth the effort though, a fantastic movie.

  3. I completely agree with your point about the greatness-that-is-Miyazaki leaving out your typical "bad-guy"; I think that is a great point, actually, and seems to lend itself to a lot of his coming-of-age movies (at least, the ones that aren't grand displays of environmentalist leanings, heh).

    Anyway, it is a great movie, and it *is* at the top of my Christmas list (so hopefully he did buy it for me) ;)