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Studio Ghibli Countdown: ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’

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It’s time for the sixth installment of the Rotoscopers’ Studio Ghibli Countdown: Kiki’s Delivery ServiceKiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便, Majo no Takkyūbin) was released by Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli in 1989. The film, based on the book by Eiko Kadono, was directed, written, and produced by filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

Synopsis

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the story of thirteen-year-old witch, Kiki (Kirsten Dunst, Minami Takayama), who leaves her family for a year to start her witch training. Kiki decides to settle in Koriko, a beautiful city (with a distinctly northern European vibe) by the ocean.

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Kiki and her cat, Jiji (Phil Hartman, Rei Sakuma), find a home with bakery owner Osono (Tress MacNeille, Keiko Toda) and her husband Fukuo (Brad Garrett, Kōichi Yamadera), who let them live in their attic in exchange for help around their shop. Kiki soon opens her own delivery service, using her flying broomstick to transport packages. She meets Tombo (Matthew Lawrence, Kappei Yamaguchi), an airplane-obsessed teenager who dreams of making his own flying machine and is fascinated by Kiki’s flying broomstick. While initially put off by Tombo’s enthusiasm, the two eventually form a friendship.

Kiki’s delivery service takes a turn for the worse when she accidentally loses one of her packages while flying in a storm. As she searches for the package, she befriends a friendly painter named Ursula (Janeane Garofalo, Minami Takayama).

While originally excited to leave home and begin her training, Kiki quickly discovers that living on her own and learning to be a witch is more difficult than she originally imagined. She enters a period of intense sadness upon learning that she has mysteriously lost both her ability to fly and her ability to communicate with Jiji. Ursula tells Kiki that she is experiencing artist’s block and that if she can take her mind off her inability to fly, then she may be able to fly again.

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While making a delivery, Kiki sees live news coverage of a boy stuck on a dirigible that has broken loose of its anchor due to a windstorm. She recognizes the boy as Tombo and rushes to the scene. At the last minute, Kiki regains her power to fly and is able to save Tombo as he falls from the airship. With her happiness and confidence restored, Kiki is able to continue both her witch training and her delivery service.

Production

While Miyazaki’s name is commonly associated with Kiki’s Delivery Service today, it was originally going to be directed by a different filmmaker, Sunao Katabuchi, who went on to work as assistant director on Kiki. While Miyazaki and The Tale of Princess Kaguya director Isao Takahata were each originally approached as directors for the film, both were working on other projects at the time (Miyazaki on My Neighbor Totoro) and were unavailable to direct when the film went into production. Miyazaki remained a part of the creative team, however, and his involvement with the film steadily grew until 1988, when he was named director.

While more than one English dub of the film has been produced (American distributor Steamline Pictures and Japanese publisher Tokuma Shoten produced the first English dub in 1990), the most widely known is Disney’s 1997 version starring Kirsten Dunst as Kiki. The release of Kiki’s Delivery Service was the beginning of a 15-year distribution deal between The Walt Disney Company and Studio Ghibli that led to many other English language releases of Studio Ghibli films.

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As with most English translations of Japanese animated media, the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service differs from the original version in some key ways. The biggest change to the movie is the character of Jiji, who takes on a sharper and more sarcastic attitude with Phil Hartman’s performance of the character.

Another is the film’s songs. While the original film includes the songs “Rouge no Dengon” and “Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta Nara”, both performed by Yumi Matsutoya, these songs were replaced in the first English release with the songs “Soaring” and “I’m Gonna Fly” by Sydney Forest.

My Thoughts

When I was little I loved Kiki’s Delivery Service, and it was a film my family regularly rented on VHS.

I hadn’t seen this film in years, but when I re-watched it recently, I was really impressed by how real the characters and situations felt, even with the fantasy elements. While Kiki is a young teenager and not a young adult, I feel that Miyazaki was perfectly able to capture the trials and stresses most young adults face when they are forced into new and unfamiliar situations. Instead of moving to a new place and having everything go as planned, Kiki loses her confidence and has to work twice as hard to achieve success in her training and in her personal life.

I was also really impressed by how the film deals with more serious subject matter. Kiki’s loss of her ability to fly coincides with the onset of serious emotional issues. Her sadness, her isolation from her friends and everyone around her, and her increasingly pessimistic attitude really give the viewer the feeling that Kiki is not just going through a passing phase but is instead falling into a state of depression.
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While the film is fairly lighthearted overall, I liked that Miyazaki and the other filmmakers, writers, and artists who worked on this movie weren’t afraid to depict sadness and include serious challenges and setbacks for the characters.

Overall, I love the message of this movie, and Kiki’s Delivery Service will always be one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films!

What are your thoughts on Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service? Let us know in the comments!

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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About Hannah Wilkes

Hannah, an animation addict currently living in Southern California, works in production in the animation industry. When she’s not working, she likes to spend her time watching movies with her friends, listening to podcasts, and going to Disneyland. Follow her on Instagram at hannahelizabethx92.