1989, Ghibli: ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’

Written, directed, and produced by Hayao Miyazaki, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is a 1989 coming-of-age film about Kiki as she settles in a new city to complete her training and become a witch. Kiki, a thirteen-year-old trainee, starts a service in which she delivers goods with her black cat, Jiji, on a broom. Spoilers ahead.

The port town of Koriko draws heavy influences from Stockholm and Visby in Sweden—and it certainly sets the movie up for shot after shot of gorgeous, vibrant colors. From the brick texture of the roads to the fluffy bread in Osono’s bakery, the backgrounds of this film are enchanting and delectable. The picturesque paintings of Kiki’s new home—composed of soft lines and softer line art—also creates a coziness that elevates the homey tint of each frame.

Complementing the setting, the film masterfully employs sound—through silence, music, and background noise—to complete the experience of life in Koriko and her delivery adventures. For instance, as Kiki attempts to catch Tombo at the climax of the movie, Miyazaki uses silence to create tension just before she grasps his hand. Immediately after, the huge crowd begins to chant as they rejoice at Kiki’s saving Tombo’s life. Not only does the sound elevate the movie’s experience, it also significantly raises the stakes and conveys emotion.

However, even with the beautiful details, the main story—involving Kiki’s relationships with the other characters—is often one-dimensional or unaddressed. The first time Kiki meets Tombo, he helps her and greets her politely, but she proceeds to ignore him for the majority of the movie. Yet later on, she is all of a sudden overjoyed at the opportunity to attend his party. Similarly, the baker Osono randomly agrees to house, feed, and hire Kiki simply because she delivered a lost pacifier to a customer. Another time, a stranger Kiki meets mends a stuffed toy for her while Kiki cleans her house. The next time we meet said stranger, she and Kiki and end up in a sleepover at her house. It’s difficult and confusing tracking relationships between all the characters, throwing a major wrench in the film’s attempt to display themes of friendship and love.

Strangely enough, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is visually gorgeous and audibly remarkable, but its plot and characters are lackluster and sloppy. It is a strange feeling to dearly feel a world’s beauty but not appreciate its characters. As Miyazai’s third film under Studio Ghibli, the execution of this movie was a spectacular viewing experience but fundamentally flawed because of its story.

Three out of five stars.