Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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Directed by Hayao Miyasaki
Written by: Eiko Kadono & Hayao Miyasaki

“The talents of witches in this film are really little more than those possessed by any real-life girl” – Hayao Miyasaki

After falling asleep on a train Kiki finds herself in Koriko. It looks nothing like her home. It’s more…European. The Rock n’ Roll on her portable radio changes, it’s now a spoken broadcast, and it’s in a different language.

She flies her broom hastily stumbling through winding streets, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a bus.

And so begins Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Kiki troubles to settle into in Koriko until a woman leaves a bakery without her baby’s dummy.  As the bakery’s owner sees her customer in the distance Kiki hurries on her broom and returns the dummy. Upon seeing an opportunity, the baker Osono, encourages Kiki to set up a delivery business in her bakery.   From there we follow Kiki as she makes several deliveries, with one errand Kiki meets Ursula, an artist who lives in the woods. Meanwhile, a local boy Tombo takes an interest to the new girl in town.

Suddenly, Kiki finds herself a life in Koriko.

Kiki flies with her broomstick over Koriko, her black dress flickering in the wind against the background of an ocean, colourful buildings line the horizon as seagulls fly overhead. It’s a world that never existed and conjured up through the rose-tinted mind of Miyasaki.  His view of Koriko heavily inspired of a fusion of Stockholm, Naples, Paris, Lisbon and Amsterdam. The brick and mortar, the coloured walls, the cobbled streets.

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It’s almost as if Miyasaki hopes to symbolise the struggle of a traditional and yet evolving Japan through the lens of a traditional yet evolving Europe. Kiki lives in a world where WWII never happened in an alternative utopian history. The coincidence that this film follows from Grave of the Fireflies, a film showing the grim consequences of war makes this a light-hearted companion piece. One, the horrors of reality, the other the calm of imagination.

Miyasaki states this film represents the plight of young girls in Japan as they begin their lives for spiritual independence.  Once upon a time once a young woman found financial and spiritual independence through employment. But as the economic climate changed in Japan employment became more sporadic.   Spiritual independence no longer seemed to connect with employment and the journey to become a fully fledged woman became more of a challenge. Rather than portray Kiki has a problem solver who persevered all adversity with her big heart, as she is depicted in the source material, he instead wanted to show her deal with grief and have moments of hardship to reflect the reality of womanhood in 1980’s Japan.   

Ma in Japanese describes negative space.  Negative space can mean the nothing between two objects yet in Kiki’s Delivery Service it’s better expressed in its empty scenes amongst the problemless problems.  The film is mostly an empty stage, or music,where the silence between notes and the emptiness on the stage are as important as the actors and the instruments.  The mise en scene throughout is an ongoing cinematic expression of Ma

Despite the adventures of a schoolgirl finding love and an inserted dramatic scene near the end of the film involving a crashing blimp (it was inserted for dramatisation despite the original author Kadono’s wishes), Kiki’s Delivery Service never involves dramatic stakes.   However, an event occurs when Kiki loses her ability to fly and talk to her cat Jiji. The loss of her witch powers and the ability to talk to her familiar is a loss of innocence on Kiki’s path to adulthood.  But I guess that’s growing up.

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The loss of her home and Jiji, the loss of a date with Tombo, the loss of her powers. It’s how she deals with those losses that shape who she is and who she wants to become. It’s through her silence we see her will herself into her perceived version of herself. Her determination in delivering a pie that wasn’t even wanted, her will to gain her powers back to help the struggling blimp and her friend Tombo.  We may wonder where this virtuous woman comes from, unaware we have watched her grow throughout the film. Moments of Ma  are captured as she waits for a pie to cook, or as she sleeps on a train, or as she watches an artist paint.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is similar to a candle, it’s a slow burn. But there’s art in the wax. From afar it may look pleasant, sitting well within the holder. But when it’s watched, and the stare is focussed, the flame flickers wildly, and with it the candle melts revealing intricate layers. With each burn of the flint, a new pattern reveals itself. But much like adulthood, our true colours are only shown to those who wish to see it.

 7/10 Totoros

7 totoros