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Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

© 1989 Eiko Kadono - Studio Ghibli - N
In the unbeatable filmography of Hayao Miyazaki, it's fair to say that some of his films get a lot more attention than others. When questioned on their favourite of his films, you'll hear fans name Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Nausicaa time and time again. One of Miyazaki's earlier films that often seems to get overlooked is Kiki's Delivery Service. Why no love for Kiki? Is it a lesser Miyazaki work?

Nestled in Miyazaki's filmography between Totoro and Porco Rosso, Kiki's Delivery Service was adapted from a 1985 Japanese novel from Eiko Kadono. It follows the young witch, Kiki, who as tradition dictates leaves home at age 13 to live alone for a year and make use of her magic skills. Flying off on her broomstick with faithful black cat Jiji, she finds a town to settle in, and with the help of newfound friends finds a wonderful new use for her flying skills.

© 1989 Eiko Kadono - Studio Ghibli - 

Kiki's Delivery Service is one of Miyazaki's most gentle films. The world in which it takes place- a European influenced setting that sees to be somewhere in the 50's or 60's (judging by the existence black and white TV sets, radios and telephones)- is warm and welcoming. There's no villain or world threatening plot here. Generally, the stakes are pretty low, although there's a little of what the BBFC would have called  'mild peril' back in the day. The story here is more of a coming-of-age tale, with Kiki learning to believe in herself and really begin to make her own way in the world for the first time.

Despite the fact that the film centres on a young witch, this is also actually one of Miyazaki's most down-to-earth films. Beyond the existence of witches- and a talking cat-, the world onscreen is recognizable as one very similar to our own, and not full of fantastic creatures or spirits, or strange happenings. Instead, people in this world live lives very similar to our own.

© 1989 Eiko Kadono - Studio Ghibli - 

Does that make for a dull film? That's a matter of opinion, but I'd argue not at all. This is as charming an experience as you'll find in any other Ghibli film. It's as beautifully animated as you would expect, with appealing characters and stunning backgrounds. By the time the credits roll, you'll wish you could take your next holiday in Kiki's world.

Kiki's broomstick allows Miyazaki, to indulge in his beloved flying sequences, and they are a definite highlight here. Watching Kiki and Jiji take flight over the world below provides plenty of beautiful imagery- and for many UK audiences will likely bring back memories of The Snowman too. At the same time though, there's a slightly ramshackle edge to the way Kiki- as a young, fledgeling witch- flies, giving the flight sequences a more human,  believable feel.

© 1989 Eiko Kadono - Studio Ghibli 

Kiki is a lovable central character, with a sweet and innocent disposition. Her later struggles with self-doubt and confidence can be read either as an analogy about puberty, or possibly depression and anxiety- either way they're extremely relatable for much of the audience. Jiji, Kiki's feline best friend and almost constant companion is a stand-out character in the Ghibli canon. He also provides a reason to choose the English dub in this case. Voiced by the late great Phil "Troy McLure" Hartman, whose take on the character adds an extra dimension. The rest of the cast (some more typical teens aside) is similarly filled out by lovable characters, from bakery owner Osono to Kiki's bespectacled would-be boyfriend Tombo.

The music (of course) comes from usual Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi,  who provides another set of memorable tunes, adding an extra magic to the flight sequences in particular.

It's ironic that Kiki is so often overlooked in the Ghibli catalogue- because it's actually one of their most accessible films. Lacking in a lot of the cultural baggage that other Miyazaki films have, Kiki has a pure and universal appeal. Sit anyone down in front of this and they will be able to understand it- so it is actually a good starting point for anyone trying to discover Studio Ghibli for the first time.

Kiki's Delivery Service may not offer the strange and wonderful creatures of other works by its director, or offer much in the way of spectacular set-pieces, but so what? This is a much gentler, simpler story but is no less a beautiful film for that. As sweet and as magical as Kiki herself.

KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the US from DISNEY and in the UK from STUDIO CANAL.