Quick Retrospective: “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

The next step in my thoroughly enjoyable journey through the Miyazaki oeuvre is “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.

This one will be quick because, in a lot of ways, it’s very similar to “My Neighbor Totoro”, a supernatural slice of life film for preteen girls.

The movie can best be described as “Incredibly charming”. Everything is very fluffy and low stakes. Outside of one scene at the end, nobody is in any real danger. The conflict is all internal – Kiki needs to gain the self-confidence and skills to navigate through life on her own, and how she goes about doing this is told in what is essentially a series of vignettes that make up the plot of the movie.

“Kiki’s” is – and I don’t really know how else to say this – very sweet, even more so than “Totoro”. There isn’t even that underlying sense of dread like in that film. As the TVTropes article on the film points out, that’s more laughing with joy in this film than anything else I can think of (this is a Miyazaki thing, apparently, as there was quite a lot of laughing for joy in “Totoro” and even “Castle in the Sky”).

At the same time, the world isn’t quite as friendly as “Totoro”, though nobody ever actually gets TOO mean. An interestingly subtle trick that Miyazaki plays is that even when Kiki has trouble with other people, the problem is actually mostly with her. Tombo, the boy who obviously has a crush on her, is actually very polite to her throughout the film, but Kiki rebuffs him (she says for bad manners, but more obviously because she’s still nervous about meeting new people at this point in the story). When Tombo’s friends show up and Kiki runs away in tears, they never actually do anything wrong; Kiki is just overly self-conscious of her lack of money, and it’s when she accepts her own skills and limitations that she is finally able to open up to new people in her life.

The finale of the film was controversial with the author of the book the movie was based on, but for the film itself it is perfect. The story asks the question: Why is it so important that Kiki can fly, or more fundamentally, that she is a witch?  And the finale gives the answer: Because it helps her connect with and help the people around her. It is a skill not only to be used for work and enjoyment, but for friendship and to better the world, something implied from the very beginning of the story but that Kiki only truly understands during the climax. A rather noble message for such a relaxed, low-key film!

It is also worth noting that the flying scenes themselves are spectacular; unlike the typical Harry Potter/traditional view of witches on broomsticks, Miyazaki portrays flying as wonderfully capricious and unstable, at the mercy of the wind and difficult to control. Scenes where Kiki is simply flying through the town avoiding the people, buildings, and vehicles rank among the best in the whole film.

You knew, I’d recommend this, right? Well, you were right. I do. As always, it’s yet another home run from Miyazaki, probably the “worst” of the films so far for certain values of that word but still a wonderfully fun low-key charmer if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

And who isn’t sometimes, right?