Animated Movies, News, Reviews, Studio Ghibli

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 is an animation-lover currently living in Southern California and working at Warner Bros. Entertainment in Burbank, CA. When she’s not working, she likes to spend her time watching movies with her friends, listening to podcasts, going to Disneyland, and Instagram stalking French bulldog puppies. Follow her on Instagram at hannahelizabethx92.
  • Phoenix Wright

    One of my favorite things about this movie is the city. It just wonderfully designed! I wish I could just pack up and move there

  • This was only anime my mom allowed me to watch as a kid. Now she’s a bit more open minded but not a lot.

    • Manuel Orozco

      The first anime I’ve ever watched was Sailor Moon than Pokémon. But one particular anime I enjoyed as a kid was Hamtaro.

  • Manuel Orozco

    On the day before Halloween in 2010, I did a DVD Netflix double feature with this movie and Princess and the Frog. As a kid, I’ve seen bits of the 1998 English dub on Disney XD when it was known as Toon Disney. However, I did not see the whole thing until I was 17. Kiki’s Delivery Service has a refreshing mix of beautiful animation, gentle whimsy and a heartfelt coming of age story at it’s emotional core! Tough to find a film with that type of quality these days. Does anyone find it surreal that both Kristin Dunst and Matthew Laurence got to work with Robin Williams (RIP) separately? 4/5 stars

  • This was the SG film that made me really love SG!

    • Manuel Orozco

      My first SG film was Spirited Away

  • Jordan Briskin

    The first Studio Ghibli movie I ever saw, and my #1 fave!

    Kiki’s journey of finding out what her skills are and discovering her true self is, essentially, my own; I’ve recently begun my education in the drawing arts with the goal of becoming an animator (and, utlimately, an animation director), and am intent on honing my skills so that I may achieve that goal. This being said, out of all the protagonists in the Ghibli canon, I relate to Kiki most of all.

    Ursula’s commentary on finding inspiration also resonates with me deeply.

  • Ahhhh I LOVE KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE!!! Got the movie on blu ray and heck even have my wallet with this cute Kiki design!! Kiki is just so inspiring especially these days for me and so much fun to see her interacting with all different kinds of people on her journey!! Another great movie to watch on a beautiful lazy weather day and a definite feel good movie for me! ^.^

  • k

    One of the three that is not an original story by Miyazaki (Cagliostro and Howl being the others).
    Not my cup of tea unfortunately. The book is suppose to go to volume six and Kiki is 35yrs old and married to Tombo and has twins Toto and Nini. Nini becomes a witch like her mother.
    There was a live action movie in 2014 but I hear it’s bad.

  • Ivan Lietaert

    I ‘ve been gradually buidling up my Studio Ghibli collection, and I haven’t got this one (yet).
    Being European (Belgian), I don’t fully understand Japan’s fascination for European culture. Is it any better than Japanese culture? I don’t think so. Also, the Europe portrayed in these movies is extremely cliché and very unrealistic. I once, when on holiday in the Alps, visited ‘Heidi Dorf’. This tourist attraction is so unnatural, while flooded by Japanese tourists. It has nothing to do with the current Switzerland (nor that from the past).
    I prefer the Ghibli features that portray the Japanese spirit and culture, such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and, of course, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.