You know, reviewing all these Studio Ghibli films is beginning to take its toll. My thesaurus is shredded trying to find new superlatives and let’s face it, if I say, perfectly realised characters one more time the Reviewers Guild is going take away my keyboard, fez and ceremonial dagger.
In Kiki’s Delivery Service Myazaki explores a character’s need to define themself and establish their independence in the world. His heroine Kiki, bursting with verve and enthusiasm, moves to a large city where, for the first time she encounters the problems of loneliness and future uncertainty. Kiki’ s problems of that of a teenager moving toward adulthood. Her witchy wardrobe, (which, although black, certainly is the height of frumpy chic), marks her as different and thus a figure of some ridicule to those of her own age. Myazaki captures her conflict between her wanting to fit in battling her desire to run and hide.
Myazaki’s world design evokes his love of pre-war Europe. It is a bright, sunny and bustling coastal Mediterranean city. His focus is one again on the small triumphs of life. Myazaki lifts the simple task of Kiki delivering a birthday present into the realm of high adventure.
The cast is filled with wonderfully drawn and understated characters. Kiki’s cat familiar, Jiji provides moments of great hilarity with self-absorbed observations that show a complete disregard for tact. Kiki makes a number of friends in her new town: the pregnant and effervescent Osono and her silent yet demonstrative baker husband who offer Kiki a room; Tombo, a teenage boy with dreams of flying who immediately falls for Kiki; and Ursula, a painter who Kiki discovers working alone in the forest.
It is this last character who plays a pivotal role in Kiki’s journey. When Kiki is faced with a loss of confidence it is Ursula who shows Kiki the universality of her feelings, the importance of maintaining passion when faced with indifference and continuing to work when inspiration is lacking.
If I had to be critical, Myazaki’s dramatic set piece ending somewhat undercuts what has gone before. One highly visible heroic deed establishes Kiki in the town overshadowing her personal insights gained through struggle. It also gives the film an abrupt ending which Myazaki attempts to redress with a series of events that play during the credits.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles and once again Myazaki presents a masterful story for all ages that skilfully uses a young witch’s powers as a powerful metaphor for utilising one’s talents and leaving one’s own unique imprint on the world.