Pick of the Week: Kiki's Delivery Service
Veteran Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki directs this buoyant, heartwarming and gorgeously-rendered coming of age tale about a young witch striking out on her own and discovering her place in the world. Kiki's Delivery Service is a children's adventure, sure to strike a chord with the inner child we all secretly harbour!
Kiki’s Delivery Service by Hayao Miyazaki (My neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away) is a coming-of-age story about a young witch. In keeping with Japanese folklore tradition, when Kiki turns thirteen years old she leaves her sheltered life to discover a new home and hone herself into a more disciplined and skilled witch. She meets new people and observes different lifestyles which gives her a renewed sense of her own identity.
Although its protagonist is a well fleshed out and layered character, with an especially relatable story arc for younger audiences, this film isn’t particularly story driven. There is a loose, underlying plot but what really propels the film forward is the different adventures Kiki embarks on. These incidents help her understand the hitherto unknown world better and gauge her own place in it. Kiki’s naïveté and child-like wonder give the film an innocent and heartwarming quality, which is challenged mildly in the film’s main conflict giving it depth, but without ruining its distinctly calm tone. The themes explored in the film correspond to the transformation of a child into a young adult and Kiki goes through various experiences a teenager undergoes; living alone, earning for herself, dating, loneliness, insecurity and so on. Although subtle, the film is inspiring and hopeful in its dealing with the placid but important crises that are faced by almost every young adult as a part and parcel of life itself.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is undoubtedly a fantasy film. But that doesn’t stop it from being relatable, even for a more mature audience. Owing to the coming-of-age story, the film may make you feel nostalgic. Kiki’s experience of living alone, and her excitement at being independent is delightful to watch, and has a pervasive quality in spite of the eccentric and magical characteristics of the story. In fact, the most affecting and moving portion of the film is when Kiki struggles with her sense of self and purpose, something she has never struggled with before. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet moment and many of us might recall feeling like Kiki did in her low moments. It is the stage when we experience vulnerability and failure for the first time, and the complexity and confusion that comes with these feelings can be so devastating that it feels like we may never be the best version of ourselves again. Of course, with time it becomes apparent that occasionally feeling powerless is part and parcel of adulthood, and when Kiki realises this and regains her confidence, we celebrate her, and perhaps also the younger version of ourselves.
There are many supporting characters who add value to the overall feel of this congenial movie. They are people from different walks of life who influence Kiki with their kindness, talent, and good nature. For instance, the kind-hearted lady who helps Kiki with lodging and her new business has a wonderful, spirited laugh, often reserved for Kiki’s innocent shenanigans. Like her, almost every character has a distinct, likeable quality. The aesthetics of the film are also a major contributor to the feel-good factor. The frames are composed of warm pink skies, deep green woods, and pastel coloured landscapes. Unlike its American counterpart, Japanese Animation or ‘anime’ as it is popularly called, places much greater emphasis on depth and detail. For instance the physical features of characters are generally sharp and well defined, rather than exaggerated and rounded. Similarly, the use of colours in Anime films also displays much wider range because of its focus on shading and highlighting, giving individual scenes the quality of seeming more realistic. However unlike American animation, anime doesn’t have lengthy sequences of animated motion. There isn’t a lot happening to any one character as far as motion is concerned. Instead, movement is shown by depicting its impact (for instance on the air around the character or the grass under their feet). Such attention to detail only compliments the fantastical themes and aesthetics usually featured in anime films, making them immensely engaging. For instance, there are scenes of witches flying calmly against the backdrop of a vast blue sky, and kittens who woo each other when no one’s watching. If the film didn’t have any credibility except the visuals, it would still make for a satisfying watch.
Kiki’s cheerfulness and resilience, and the hopeful and strong note on which the film ends is bound to be uplifting, especially given the unusual times we are living in. The film focuses strongly on individual spirit, and the idea that it is possible to do good with just our own volition, without the need for social validation of your good act. Kiki temporarily loses her sense of identity because of external factors, but regains it when she reconnects with her own self, and remembers who she is. For someone who hasn’t seen the film yet, this could be just the film to help them fight COVID blues!
Now streaming on Netflix.
Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese animator, filmmaker, screenwriter, author, and manga artist. A co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Japan's foremost film and animation studio, he has attained international acclaim as a masterful storyteller and is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished filmmakers in the history of animation. His classic animated films include the Oscar winning Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbour Totoro.