Both Hayao Miyazaki and Kiki's Delivery Service [Majo no Takkyûbin] need no introduction. Miyazaki is one of the biggest anime directors alive, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of his quintessential features. Every time I watch the film, it leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and yet it took me quite a while to include it in my list of personal favorites. There's something about Kiki's Delivery Service that makes it fade to the background, just enough to prioritize other, often less deserving films. I finally sat down to give it another go last week, and was once again astounded by the consistently high quality throughout.
Like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of Miyazaki's more subtle and subdued films. There isn't much in the way of big drama, nor is there a sprawling fantasy premise. Instead, we get a simple coming of age tale that centers on a little witch who is sent out into the real world to learn to fend for herself. The film isn't quite as innocent and carefree as Totoro, but people who got to know Miyazaki through films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away should alter their expectations before going in. This is a much smaller and sweeter experience.
Personally, I prefer it when Miyazaki keeps it light and breezy, as that is where he truly sets himself apart from other directors. Expansive fantasy worlds aren't that hard to come by, films without drama on the other hand are quite a bit rarer. It's not always easy keeping people entertained when the lead character isn't facing any strong adversities, but somehow that hardly matters when Miyazaki sculpts his intricate, warm and comfortable worlds. Kiki's Delivery Service is a perfect example, if just a little overshadowed by some of its more illustrious peers.
The plot revolves around Kiki, a young witch who just turned 13. Tradition dictates she sets out to find her own village, and Kiki is eager to finally make her mark on the world. Her first journey is a little bumpy, but she finds a bustling little city that has no active witch residing. City life is pretty different from her rural hometown, and people don't pay her any mind. Except a nice lady who works in a bakery. She helps Kiki with housing and setting up her own delivery business, but it takes time for word of mouth to travel, and Kiki is rather impatient.
Ghibli features have always been a reference and benchmark for anime productions, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of the films that helped establish this reputation. Miyazaki's attention to detail is legendary and is in full effect here. There is so much nuance in the way characters move and interact, I don't think I've seen anyone (except maybe Takahata) come close, let alone rival Miyazaki's mastery. The art style is typical Ghibli, meaning it's very bright and colorful, sporting detailed and idyllic backgrounds. The characters don't look quite as elaborate, but that's only natural given the attention to detail that went into their movements. Every frame here is a little painting, though the film does lack the visual prowess and inventiveness that is present in some of his other work.
The score is equally delightful, though not the most memorable thing Joe Hisaishi ever produced. It's a score that is easy to hum along to, and it does sound familiar enough every time I end up watching Kiki's Delivery Service, but it's not one that sticks in your brain once the film is finished. I don't think it's specifically lacking anything, but if you compare it to Hisaishi's work for Kitano, it does miss a certain spark of identity and individuality. As is typical for Ghibli, quite a few dubs are available and depending on who you watch this with it may be advisable to go for the one that doesn't require subs. I can't help but prefer the Japanese dub, and see little reason for adults to go for any other option.
Compared to Totoro, there is a touch more drama present. It is after all a coming of age story, which means that some problems need to be conquered in order for the main character to grow. But there are no big or life-threatening difficulties on Kiki's way. Whenever she hits a roadblock she finds kind and helpful people on her way, and no issue ever spans more than 5, max 10 minutes of the runtime. It makes that the film a very uplifting and affirming experience, showing a universe where people help each other overcome the challenges that life throws at us, without the need for scripted sentiment or excessive drama.
Kiki's Delivery Service is a delight to revisit. Maybe because it tends to fade away after time, so the experience feels slightly fresher compared to other Ghibli rewatches. The animation is splendid, the characters are extremely lovable, Kiki's growth feels earned and realistic and there isn't a single moment where the quality even dips just a smidgen. It's a film for all ages that I can watch again and again, one of those films that will forever stand strong as one of Ghibli's greats. If you haven't seen it yet, there's really no good reason to postpone or deprioritize a first viewing. Miyazaki magic.