Synopsis: A young witch gets settled in a new town. (A 1989 Studio Ghibli film. Streaming on HBO Max.)
Imagine yourself out-of-school, trying to earn a living in a new town and make friends. Writer Eiko Kadano and legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki imagined it and brought us Kiki who makes her way after leaving her hometown. She needs to find lodging and make a living — she’s thirteen years old! Also, she’s a witch.
Far be it from me to judge a witch culture, but I found it irresponsible of her parents to send the child out into the world with nothing but a broom and a black sack dress. Nevertheless, the story informs us that witches are sent out to live on their own for a year when they reach the age of thirteen.
Kiki does have a fine friend accompanying her, Jiji. Jiji is a splendid little black cat who talks. In the Disney version of the film Jiji delivers cheeky asides here and there, but the original Japanese Jiji is a shyer feline. Kiki is smart to bring along a cat companion, as they make better roommates than many people. No having the last slice of your birthday cake or bringing over sketchy friends.
Kiki hasn’t done much planning for her trip, but she does want to see the ocean. She flies off with Jiji looking for “a town without a witch.” I wondered if she would have to engage in some combat if she mistakenly moved into a town that already had a witch.
Anyway, she quickly settles on the awesome-looking busy seaport town of Koriko which I’d gladly spend the day wandering via virtual reality goggles. The artwork for the town is based on Stockholm and Visby in Sweden. And according to Miyazaki-san, the story takes place in an alternate reality mid-20th Century No War Europe where neither world war happened. A fantasy we can all get behind (except for fascists).
So… I don’t know if Kiki’s parents expected her to live under a tree or what, but she just blunders around telling passersby that she’s a witch. They look disinterested and continue on their way. I really feel like she should’ve gone to Hogwarts or another witches & wizards school so she could at least do some magic to make herself a tent. All she can do is fly, which, while awesome, doesn’t provide her with food or shelter.
Fortunately while mucking about she gets a job and spare room offer from a bake shop proprietor, Osono. The woman is heavily pregnant and needs help around the shop. Her husband is a big hulking man who seems to have lost the ability to speak through lack of practice; he works ceaselessly baking what looks to be about a thousand loaves of bread a day.
Young solo witches without parental guidance or funds need to earn a living with their talents. Kiki met a snobby young witch on her initial flight from home who bragged that she was a fortune teller. Kiki’s only talent (according to her) is flying, so she decides to start a delivery service. I was glad that she didn’t have to resort to selling hexes. Her mother makes potions, and while this could be a lucrative trade, Kiki might get arrested as a drug queenpin.
Kiki has lots of adventures with her delivery service… her first gig is flying a gift plushie who looks like Jiji to a little boy’s birthday party. Jiji accompanies her and is unnerved by the doppelganger. On the way, Kiki can’t control her broom during a windstorm and ends up dropping the plushie. In a screwball setup, she convinces Jiji to impersonate the gift while she looks for the plushie cat. Things get complicated with the overzealous party boy, a gentle giant St. Bernard named Jeff and Ursula, a free spirit artist who lives in the woods where Kiki lost her delivery. Meanwhile Jiji is probably wondering why they are helping a girl who regularly feeds them pancakes. Raar!
Okay, as for friends …this local boy, Tombo keeps trying to befriend her because he’s totally into flying. He even invites her to be a guest at his Aviation Club, which probably just consists of him. Whenever he and Kiki are outside –her fixing him with a poker stare while he addresses her as “Miss Witch” (she has a name Tombo! ) and talks incessantly about flight. One day he even demonstrates his complete lack of knowledge as to the principles of flight when he zooms her down the highway on his bike to which he has attached a propeller that not only causes wind drag, but also seriously obstructs his view.
I thought Kiki was doing pretty well considering that she was wholly unprepared for living on her own and starting a business because she is a CHILD. But she gets down on herself and starts slumping around the town on foot. I feel like it would better her mood to fly around, but she didn’t ask me. She enters what seems to be some sort of witch puberty and becomes depressed. Kiki’s magic weakens and Jiji starts hanging with another cat because, as a solitary hunter, they are not temperamentally suited to being a person’s emotional support animal.
There had been a few earlier scenes where Kiki was clearly struggling with her outsider status… Tombo seems to know every other kid in town and whenever he and Kiki run into his Riverdale-esque pals, the girls seem to giggle at Kiki while the boys give off an obnoxious bro vibe. Tombo is completely oblivious to Kiki’s depression. One day he calls her up and rattles on about a dirigible flight like he’s had ten cups of coffee. In a flat tone she tells him not to call her again. Without missing a beat he exclaims: Did I tell you I talked to the captain?!! Then Kiki hangs up on him. Good move, Kiki! Don’t worry, Kiki has a mood upswing and her flying days are not over.
Hayao Miyazaki says that Kiki’s Delivery Service is a story about maturing; Kiki will have to work to find her own inspiration. I think it’s also a movie about the impracticality of a thirteen year old living on their own, the trials of having a doofish, but goodhearted friend like Tombo and how a cat would rather stay at home and nap than go flying around on a broom.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: A gentle and uplifting example of Miyazaki’s brilliant vision.
Humor Highlight: Tombo’s blunders.