Kiki's Delivery Service

1989, Movie, G, 103 mins

Review

KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE | MAJO NO TAKKYUBIN
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One of the most celebrated Japanese family films in recent memory, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE is an animated feature which tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who attempts to make good during a year as resident witch of a large city. Considered by many fans to be the finest work from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the long-awaited US home video release of the feature benefits from superior English dubbing utilizing celebrity voices.

Kiki (voice of Kirsten Dunst), a 13-year-old witch-in-training, leaves her family and country town to settle for a year in a large city, as dictated by witch custom. Flying off on her broomstick with her wise-cracking black cat, Jiji (voice of Phil Hartman), she decides on a large, unnamed Northern European metropolis. After some difficulty finding a place to stay, she performs a good deed for a baker, Osono (voice of Tess McNeille), and is given an attic room until she can get settled on her own. She sets herself up as a delivery girl, performing errands around the city on her trusty broomstick. In the course of one of her errands, Kiki meets a young artist, Ursula (voice of Janeane Garofalo), who lives in a cabin in the woods outside the city.

A local boy, Tombo (voice of Matthew Lawrence) develops a crush on Kiki; she initially rebuffs him, but gradually warms up to him. He shows her his propeller-powered bicycle, a flying-machine-in-progress. Soon after, however, Kiki finds herself losing her powers. She is visited by Ursula, who takes her out to the cabin for a day so Kiki can recuperate and recover her powers. Ursula describes her own crisis of confidence when she was Kiki's age and insists that Kiki relax and allow her powers to return of their own accord.

Upon her return to the city, Kiki visits her aged customer, Madame (voice of Debbie Reynolds), and sees on Madame's TV that a huge dirigible visiting the city has gone out of control. It begins to fly away with one person still clinging to the line--Tombo. Kiki runs to the site of the catastrophe, commandeers a janitor's broom, and after several halting attempts manages to fly up and rescue Tombo in the nick of time. Tombo goes on to complete his own flying machine, while Kiki writes to her parents that all is going well.

Produced in 1989, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE has long had a glowing reputation among anime buffs, although it was never officially distributed in the US until its release in 1998 on home video. It's the first release from the Disney Corporation's deal with Tokuma Shoten, a publishing company with the rights to the works of Studio Ghibli, the animation studio operated by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's preeminent animator.

KIKI'S benefits from extremely detailed production design, particularly in the illustrations of Kiki's adopted city, which registers as a beautiful if slightly romanticized embellishment of a European metropolis from another era (period details from different decades--extending from the 1930s to the 1950s--are featured in the city). The animation is particularly fluid, especially in the scenes where Kiki flies over the city and along its streets. The action is underscored by the lyrical music of composer Joe Hisaishi, whose piano solos are featured on the soundtrack. The only complaint about the soundtrack is the substitution of two new English-language songs for the delightful original Japanese-language opening and closing songs.

Deliberately eschewing the fast pace, strenuous action, frenzied special effects and wall-to-wall songs of the standard Disney animated feature, the film allows the audience to get to know the character of Kiki and feel the emotional highs and lows she undergoes in the course of her year in training. This rite-of-passage theme is found in most other Miyazaki films, including MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988, released in the US in 1993), as well as his most recent film, PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), Japan's biggest boxoffice hit at the time of its release. leave a comment

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