If I didn’t make it clear the last Studio Ghibli film I talked about in a “SMReviews Loves” post, this animation studio is a special one to me. It is a studio whose contribution to the animation art form is paramount in the medium’s evolution. It is also a very progressive animation studio, much like its western counterpart Walt Disney Studios, Studio Ghibli films also had many female characters in the spotlight. However, unlike the female characters in Disney film, the ones in a Studio Ghibli production, didn’t exactly need a saviour. So, I’d like to introduce you to my favourite female Ghibli character.
Kiki’s Delivery Service was made in 1989 and directed by studio icon Hayao Miyazaki. The film follows Kiki (Minami Takayama/Kirstin Dunst), a 13-year-old trainee witch who leaves home along with her black cat Jiji (Rei Sakuma/Phil Hartman) to start her years of an independent life. She finds the city of Koriko and is taken in by Osono (Keiko Toda/Tress MacNeille), the owner of a bakery. In exchange for living with her, Kiki decides to help Osono by starting a delivery service for the bakery.
Even though what I’ve just described above may sound like the while story, it actually just scratches the surface of the film, because like most Miyazaki films, Kiki’s Delivery Service has a very laid-back attitude when it comes to story. it may seem at times when there isn’t much story going on and you’re just watching characters interact with one another. But the genius of Miyazaki films is having your attention despite nothing really going on because you’re in admiration of these characters. You admire how strong-willed and sweet Kiki is, you admire the friendship she has with her often-sarcastic cat Jiji and the developing friendship with local boy Tombo (Kappei Yamaguchi/Matthew Lawrence). These different characters make the film incredibly relaxing to watch, plus because there is no CGI animation in sight, some of the scenery in this film is visually amazing.
Most of these amazing visuals come in the form of the port town Koriko when Kiki makes her residence. A lot of the locations in Hayao Miyazaki’s works up until this film were very much inspired by Japanese places and architecture, but in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the town has a huge European influence. It’s the kind of town you’d expect to see in the Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Denmark, and maybe throw in a pinch of Germany for good measure. It’s a welcoming change to the more rural locations Miyazaki like to feature, plus because Kiki grew up in a more rural environment, it’s very humorous and heart-warming to see her efforts to fit in to her busy surroundings.
The film is not all about Kiki and her life in this new town, the film is about the maturity that comes with independence. Technically speaking, Kiki is around that age where she’s coming out of her child cocoon so the film often has moments that can relate to girls also going through a maturity change. I think Tombo has a big part to play in this as his and Kiki’s friendship starts off on the wrong foot, but as Kiki grows, she becomes warmer to him as a possible love interest. There’s a point in which Tombo wants to introduce Kiki to his friends and Kiki’s attitude completely changes. Now some will be able to point out this sudden change in justified as Kiki’s actual intentions at that point is to want to spend time with just Tombo, something that girl going through maturity will often experience themselves and be conflicted by it.
As well as maturity through independence, Miyazaki also highlights the importance of being yourself. It’s fair to say that Kiki is exactly the best dressed girl around. She wears a black dress with a big red bow in her hair and when she’s arrives in Korito, it’s fair to say she’s does stick out among the lavishness of its residence. However, at a point in the film she suddenly starts to be concerned about her appearance, in one moment, she stops to admire a pair of expensive, beautiful shoes. Later on, she gets a party invitation from Tombo and her main concern is what she will wear, to which Osono reminds her that she’s fine the way she is.
Whereas My Neighbour Totoro was able to grip us through imagination, Kiki’s Delivery Service is able to do the same, only with more emphasis on character strength. Kiki is absolutely a great female character role model for young girls, much like any other female Ghibli protagonist. Some will argue that the film isn’t that perfect, and I can kind of see that as the film’s finale can feel like it came out of nowhere and that the ending doesn’t feel like an ending, but those two moments are just a drop of dirty water in a crystal-clear ocean.
There are many, many things to admire about Kiki’s Delivery Service other than the one’s mentioned here, and I would unquestionably recommend it to parents with young girls.