Hayao Miyazaki’s animated coming-of-age film Kiki’s Delivery Service returns to theaters

In Spirited Away, director Hayao Miyazaki transported Japanese anime into the mainstream consciousness in the United States.  A dramatic fantasy story with gravitas and an incredible journey, Spirited Away would win the Oscar for Best Animated Film–Miyazaki’s only Oscar (except his lifetime honorary Oscar).  Twelve years earlier he enchanted audiences with Kiki’s Delivery Service, the story of a young witch living in a world where the supernatural and normal coexist similar to the world of Harry Potter, which wouldn’t arrive for another eight years.  Kiki’s Delivery Service is in the camp of sweet, wondrous animated adventures led by characters curious about their world, like Whisper of the Heart and My Neighbor Totoro.  But where Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind featured soaring magical flight like never seen before and Spirited Away stretched the boundaries of the imagination, in Kiki’s Delivery Service you’ll want to live in the village Kiki finds to establish herself and hone her skills.  But it has plenty of flight, too.

The film is back in theaters this weekend for a limited release.

Most movies of the 21st century provide an equivalent experience whether seen at home or in the theater.  Hayao Miyazaki’s anime achievements are the exception.  Kiki’s Delivery Service was the gateway for many Westerners to anime.  The film was the first released in partnership between Studio Ghibli and The Walt Disney Company, springboarding the fantasy film into the States and later into VHS machines.

The story follows witch-in-training Kiki, who takes her talking black cat Jiji to find a new place to live, a with rite of passage now that she has turned 13 years old.  Jiji rides her shoulder like a parrot and she travels like Sabrina via broomstick.  She befriends a bakery owner, who lets Kiki live at the bakery in exchange for helping out.  Kiki establishes her own delivery service, a job that allows her to learn about herself via her failures.

Kiki’s cat Jiji is a riot–a great “familiar” who is put-upon and forced to go through his own trials much like Gromit in the Wallace & Gromit animated shorts.

The animation, especially of the beautiful town, is gorgeous.  And it’s matched by the fun orchestral score created by Joe Hisaishi, with splashes of Italy and love themes.  Kiki has elements of Mary Poppins and Bell, Book, and Candle.  The witchcraft is applied with a light touch, less than even Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Harry Potter.  Kiki befriends a boy named Tombo, who will have you thinking of Waldo from Where’s Waldo? in all his scenes.

The original version stars Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, and Kappei Yamaguchi.  The English dubbed version includes voices of Kirsten Dunst as Kiki and the late Phil Hartman as Jiji–with Debbie Reynolds as Madame.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is back in theaters for a limited three-day release beginning Sunday as part of the Fathom Events series, in partnership with Studio Ghibli and GKids.  Check out the Fathom Events website for theater availability and listings. Kiki’s Delivery Service will be screened in the English dubbed version Sunday, June 11, 2023, and in the Japanese with English subtitles version on Monday, June 12 and Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

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