“A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.”
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki, Rated: G, 103 minutes
There are two things that I love to see handled in film because – fortunately – they are never quite handled the same way: time travel and magical power. Kiki’s Delivery Service, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and based on a novel by Eiko Kadono, is about a young witch who is about to take part in a rite of passage for all 13-year old witches. She must spend a year living on her own in order to discover her real “witch” purpose. The perfect time to leave is during a full moon, and on this particular night, the sky will be clear, so she announces to her parents that is it time to begin her journey. As she her path begins, she meets another witch who is on her way home after her year of discovery. When Kiki asks if it was difficult, the other witch replies that it was easy because her skill is fortune telling, so she was able to know what might lie in her future. Kiki then wonders, “What’s my skill?”
Miyazaki (Ponyo, Spirited Away, Mononoke) without question has created numerous well-received films that millions of people worldwide have adored, but I am just not one of those millions. As Kiki’s Delivery Service began, I truly thought that this would be the Miyazaki film that would win me over. It has a great premise with great potential – a teen witch on her road to learning about herself and her place in the world – but it just did not pan out. When a sudden storm drives Kiki and her talking cat Jiji off their semi-planned route, she ends up in a little seaside village. While searching for her purpose, she helps a woman in a bakery deliver a pacifier to a mother who recently left the bakery. That’s when it clicks for Kiki that she can run her own delivery service. This should have been the kick-start to that searching of purpose, but instead it became a series of disconnected episodes that could have at least been entertaining individually, but even that was a struggle. We might as well just head over to www.partycasino.com for some fun. We’re feeling lucky as it is!
After arriving in the strange new city, she’s almost immediately detained by a constable for flying rather irresponsibly. Tombo, a boy about her age, helps her escape, but she quickly sends him away for disrespectfully and improperly approaching her. He of course thinks she’s cute, but he is also fascinated by flight. She occasionally meets other witches, but there doesn’t seem to be anything special about these witches. Society doesn’t seem to be startled by them. The witches don’t hide from the “muggles” and seem to be accepted although oddly regarded. It is very likely that part of the reason the witches do not seem to stand out very much is because they really don’t do anything other than fly on a broom. I was waiting and hoping to see some kind of magical demonstration, what really sets the witches apart from others, but it was greatly disappointing that there really wasn’t anything else.
When part of a delivery is lost due to a great gust of wind, Kiki’s cat – which just happens to look exactly like the stuffed cat that was part of the delivery – pretends to be a stuffed animal until Kiki can recover the stuffed version. It was found by a woman living in a cabin in a wooded area. Although the cat is damaged, Kiki and the woman work out a deal to fix it.
After the first third of any movie, I should have an idea of what I am waiting to see happen. I should know a conflict, something that a character is attempting to overcome or accomplish, but there did not seem to be anything hanging above and ready to pounce down. It seemed that there might be a romantic angle when she met Tombo, saw girls in pretty dresses, and wished she had a pretty dress too. That never developed, but I also did not want it to develop because there is no reason to illustrate that using 13-year olds unless these are teens with a great sense of maturity, which they are not. I realize that I am opening myself to criticism for taking the story too seriously, but I would have to disagree with that stance should it be made. Several times in the film Kiki meets other teens who clearly exceed her in maturity based on their behavior, attitude, and even just clothing. I was waiting for some kind of coming-of-age event, which would have at least been something to indicate her personal growth. It was another possible direction for plot development, but that angle slipped away too.
There was another “vignette,” because I don’t know what else to call it, in which Kiki spends time with a couple of elderly women who seem to be witches too, but they don’t demonstrate any magical ability so I was not certain. I thought perhaps they would provide some guidance to Kiki and get that “self discovery” angle back on track, but that did not work out either.
Well into the film and well past when I had given up on there being a plot, Kiki loses her only magical ability and can no longer fly. Shortly after, there is a potentially deadly situation with a dirigible that requires her help – provided she can re-learn to fly. This possibility was foreshadowed in the first few minutes of the film, but I had written off the likelihood of that developing because more than an hour had lapsed since that that early mention in the story.
I can suspend belief for many things. I loved Harry Potter, so I have nothing against witches and wizards. I can even suspend belief for 13-year olds venturing alone into the world to find their skills and purpose, renting an apartment, running a business, and living alone. However, there still needs to be a concise plot that nurtured along the way. After all of those other things that I suspended, I guess I was not able to suspend time long enough for a story to develop.
The animation style is something I am well accustomed to, having grown up on Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets, and it was a joy to see the sweeping landscapes that came from someone’s eye and hand instead of computer software. The characters were interesting enough, but they did not do very much beyond being there, which is exactly how I felt about Ponyo. That, and the lack of a clear story, means I can only come up with 3 out of 10 stars.
One and a half Totoros out of Five