Kiki's Delivery Service: Review/Synopsis

by: Doraneko

Kiki's Delivery Service was an animated movie directed by the world acclaimed animator, Hayao Miyazaki. The story was based on Eiko Kadono's novel of the same title. It was the first major success of Studio Ghibli, which attracted over 2.6 million spectators, and has a box-office of 2.17 billion yen. Rather than following the explicit and epic route of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Miyazaki made Kiki a heart-warming story of a little girl, about her struggle of growth and independence. One may be surprised that a movie can be built on no antagonist. Even so, it is still highly entertaining and enjoyable, with values and meanings that are by no means less than its predecessors.


1. Brief introduction and summary

At the start of the story, Kiki is a cheerful 13-year-old girl who has to leave her warm home to complete her training as a witch. Though she is regarded as a witch, she is no different with other girls of her age, except that she knows how to fly on a broom. As soon as she reaches the city of Koriko, her clumsiness nearly causes a traffic accident. During her training in the foreign city, she starts a home-delivery business, yet she has to face with various problems. When the story goes on, she even has to lose two of the essential elements of her life as a witch: her magic of flying and her ability of communicating with Jiji, her familiar. Eventually she overcomes all the obstacles by her kind-heart and will power.

One of the central themes of the story is personal growth. Kiki starts out as a little innocent girl who knows nothing about the outside world. She takes her only ability of flying as something granted, and tends to determine the worth of something by its outward appearance. She is also not very sociable and does not like to get along with teenagers of her age. Her delivery-work not only helps her to realize the beauty of the city and the people around her, the crises she encounters actually helps her to grow from a "child in the cradle" to a young working adult.


2. The theme

The loss of flying magic and the ability to understand Jiji makes her to have doubts about the worth of her work, the worth of her magical ability, and the worth of her own self. For the first time in her life, she tries to assess and understand the real meaning of her job and her power. The breaking of her mother's broom also symbolizes that she is no longer a child under parental protection. She has to solve all the problems by herself, without Jiji or her mother's broom. Eventually, she succeeds in recognizing the real meaning of worth, and the worth of herself. She overcomes her fear and uncertainty by her faith and will power. That is how she gains back her own self and her identity, not only as a witch, but also as a valuable member of the society. By the end, Kiki becomes a popular and likeable person in the town. Those who despised her are now her friends. She is as happy as she used to be, but she is not a little girl anymore.


3. The messages

Besides the touch on self-growth, there are other subtle messages in the movie. Unlike the other magic girl animations and TV series, "magic" in Kiki's Delivery Service is presented as nothing more than a usual talent, like the talent of an artist or a baker. Being talented does not mean that you are unique or having an easy life. It is not something granted and can be lost, unless you try your best to understand it and develop its potential. It may even be a responsibility instead of an advantage. In Kiki's case, flying not only makes her to stand out from other girls, but also brings her loneliness, and leads her towards independence.

Another message is that, not being talented, or having a talent that fails to meet one's expectation can still have a happy and worthwhile life. Tombo is just another boy at Kiki's age. He is an aviation nut but has no talent on flying. He finds his worth and value through building his own man-powered "plane". Though he failed at first, he keeps up his faith and confidence, and eventually succeeds in building a real plane. In present days, people tend to derive the worth and values of a person from his talents, fame or success, but what really matters is the attitude towards life. There is no definite equal sign between "being happy" and "being famous/talented/successful". Yet people just focus too much on the latter and end up losing the former, which is in fact a more important element of life.

A good attitude is not only a means to happiness, but also a means to success. In the story, Madam calls Kiki to deliver a pie to her granddaughter, but the electric stove fails to work and the pie cannot be cooked. Instead of sitting and doing nothing, Kiki actively offers help to cook the pie by the traditional stove. What she succeeds in earning is the friendship of Madam and Bertha.


4. Realism

The beauty of Kiki lies on its high degree of realism, with its peaceful coexistence with the fantasy elements. Actually, the only fantasy element in the movie is Kiki's flying magic. All the other things, the sceneries, the people, and the struggle of growth itself, are truthful presentations of the real life. The characters are three-dimensional and fully-developed. The viewers can see the characters as a whole, as real persons, instead of just one or two sides of their characters.

Outwardly, Kiki is a cheerful and modest girl, but deep inside, she is full of doubts and questions about herself and her worth. For example, in the scene of the sudden encounter with the three trendy girls, the viewers can see how Kiki's mood changes by 180 degrees, and how she shrinks inside her dull, non-fashionable, boring black dress. As for the story of growth, many of us have gotten pass the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. Therefore we can see a reflection of ourselves inside Kiki: self-doubt, lack of confidence, and clumsiness to a certain degree. By seeing Kiki, we can recall how we felt when we started to be independent, and when we had to face a major difficulty all by ourselves for the first time.

Furthermore, many of the scenes vividly illustrates the feelings and attitudes of the teenagers, like the scene of the boring afternoon in the bakery, and the scene of Kiki going down to the washroom in the morning (which depicts the mixed feelings of fear and embarrassment towards unfamiliar people). Even for the younger viewers, they can share the joy and sorrow of Kiki, as the problems she encounters may also be their own problems taking alternate forms (like moving to new schools).

Senses of realism are also illustrated in the other parts of the movie. Koriko is highly realistic as a fictional city. It is drawn with great details, with elements from various world cities, like Stockholm, Paris, Naples, Amsterdam and even San Francisco. One of its shores faces the Baltic Sea, while the other coast faces the Mediterranean Sea. As for the flight scenes, they are truly stunning. Although the magic of flying itself does not exist in reality, the movie shows us what really would be like if a girl could fly on a broom. We can feel the breeze running across our face when Kiki is flying. We can sense how high Kiki is flying when we see a plane flying *far* below her. When Kiki tries her best to balance on the deck brush, you can sense her weight and her "ki" (mental/spiritual power). Actually, all the traits of realism contribute in shortening the movie's distance from our daily life, and help us to be more absorbed into it.


5. Comparisons and conclusion

Some people feel that Kiki is not as good as other Miyazaki works. Nonetheless, one should aware that no movie on earth can appeal to everyone. In fact, it may not meet the expectations of some people, especially if they are not fond of movies about personal growth and relationship, and are seeking for movies that have more thrilling plots (like Laputa: Castle in the Sky) or an epic nature (like Princess Mononoke or Nausica of the Valley of the Wind). Even so, one thing is absolutely certain. With all the essences previously mentioned, Kiki is by no means a pointless film. It has achieved a high artistic level, and its content is definitely as deep and as meaningful as the other Miyazaki works. For those who think that the movie is shallow, if they could put down their prejudice, open their hearts, and spend some time to watch the movie again, they could definitely sense its subtlety and appreciate its beauty.