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Score: 8.27/10

Synopsis

Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training, must spend a year living on her own in a distant town in order to become a full-fledged witch. Leaving her family and friends, Kiki undertakes this tradition when she flies out into the open world atop her broomstick with her black cat Jiji. As she settles down in the coastal town of Koriko, Kiki struggles to adapt and ends up wandering the streets with no place to stay—until she encounters Osono, who offers Kiki boarding in exchange for making deliveries for her small bakery. Before long, Kiki decides to open her own courier service by broomstick, beginning her journey to independence. In attempting to find her place among the townsfolk, Kiki brings with her exciting new experiences and comes to understand the true meaning of responsibility. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Studio Ghibli movies have always been known for being creative, visionary and imaginative, filled with so much care and heart poured into them, to the point where they become distinguishable from the medium as a whole. For several years, Miyazaki and his buddy Takahata have devoted many hours of their days to making the best of the best when it came to animated features. For Takahata, some may say that his masterpiece when it came to movies was Grave of the Fireflies, others may say that his true masterpiece was Only Yesterday. Regardless of what Takahata’s true masterpiece is, both he and Miyazaki have produced many movies that have been hailed as masterpieces by many over the years, but what is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece? What is his magnum opus? Many will immediately point out to the award winning, beautifully animated 2001 movie, Spirited Away. Others will point out to his famous 1997 movie, Princess Mononoke. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what Miyazaki’s masterpiece truly is, since everyone has their own subjective opinions, and picking out the best of the best when it comes to Miyazaki is a hard chore to accomplish, especially considering all of the quality movies he’s put out during his career. Regardless of subjective opinions and differences between Ghibli fans, today we take a look at Miyazaki’s most underrated gem, his overshadowed masterpiece – Kiki’s Delivery Service. A movie that is so beautifully directed and animated, and has been undeservingly overshadowed by many other Ghibli titles that have come out since this movie’s debut.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the very few Ghibli movies that would make a viewer cry. Spirited Away would come close, but it wouldn’t quite hit the mark with what it offers, and wouldn’t emotionally resonate with some viewers. Kiki’s true beauty, however, lies in the fact that it is a simple movie, and any person would have come up with both the plot and the ending, but it takes a lot of care and brilliant directing to make a plot so simple shine in such a prepossessing manner. Miyazaki took a simple concept that is magic and witches flying through the air, and turned it into a film that emotionally resonates with most of those who have seen it. The plot follows Kiki, a young witch who wants to find her place in the world, and this is where the narrative truly stands out from the rest of both the other Ghibli movies, and the other witch fairytales. Kiki’s Delivery Service may seem like a witch story on the surface, but as you delve deeper into it, it begins to show itself as a movie exploring the hardships of life and a masterfully crafted coming of age story as well. The titular character is one of the most relatable to ever come out of the Ghibli discography, and is the most explored heroine in Ghibli’s catalog as well.

The central character Kiki, is relatable due to the fact that her relationship with her companions is explored thoroughly, from her relationship with her black cat Gigi, to her relationship with the young boy Tombo, to her relationship with the bakery owner, and so on and so forth. Not only are the character interactions believable and thoroughly explored, but so is the fact that Kiki exhibits human behavior unlike any other Ghibli character. When I say “human” I do not mean in the sense that it is forced like some of the other Ghibli characters, as her depression and lack of self-worth arise slowly after losing something that is deep to her, which makes her character all the more believable. It doesn’t come across as something that is shallow for the sake of gaining some sympathy and tears from the audience, since the thing she lost is something which she had owned her whole life, not something cheap which came out of nowhere and then vanished that easily to garner sympathy and tears from the viewers. This is one of the very few times where Miyazaki would go into such hard topics when it came to his characters. Usually, Miyazaki’s characters are mostly joyful and cheerful, whereas Takahata’s characters are the ones to exhibit such genuine lack of emotions and self-worth, which is another factor as to why this movie stands out as something that is both unique and exceptional in Miyazaki’s discography.

As for the other characters, they aren’t as well explored as Kiki, but they serve their purpose well within the narrative regardless. Kiki’s black cat, Gigi, isn’t the typical black cat that a witch would carry around, he talks, and his attempts at humor land solidly. When something devastating happens to him, the audience relates with him and to his struggles. To be able to make the audience feel attached to a character that isn’t as deeply explored as a well-developed protagonist like Kiki, is a feat that should not be underestimated, but Miyazaki did it brilliantly this time around. As for the bakery owner, she serves to guide Kiki through her emotional struggles and as a maternal figure to Kiki as well, since Kiki is a character that was forced to depart from her parents as a part of undergoing a witch training program. The contrast between the owner’s kindness and Kiki’s depression makes the emotional catharsis all the more immense here, and makes Kiki even more relatable as a character. Kiki is also not a perfect character at the end of the day, which makes her all the more relatable to the audience, especially those who struggle with hardships. Yes, she may be a witch and she may have special powers, but she isn’t a princess nor a hero prophesied in legends like most other Ghibli heroines. Kiki is clumsy, acts haphazardly at most times, especially with her terrible ability when it comes to landing her broom, and she tries to better herself and develop throughout the movie’s run.

As underrated as this gorgeous movie’s characters and direction are, the most underrated aspects of it are the animation and the visuals. People do not give enough credit to this movie’s audiovisuals, as it boggles the mind how a movie that is thirty years old, can have such animation that has not aged in the least bit. It is also nice to see Ghibli upping their game with this one, as the animation progressed from stills and flappy animation back in 1986 with Castle in the Sky, to some of the most fluid animation found in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Whether it’s the beautiful hand drawn animations, or the picturesque landscapes, Ghibli never ceases to amaze with this one. The backgrounds serve the story better and make the atmosphere all the more engaging, especially with the places they chose. The colors are vibrant and give the movie more life, and become pale and lifeless when the movie needs to be serious and grim. As for the character designs, Kiki is by far the most visually striking Ghibli protagonist, her most appealing feature being her tie that she wears on her head. Her dress is only one cloth, but it’s a nice change from the ridiculous clothes many other Ghibli characters wear, and it adds more to her humble character.

As for the soundtrack, this is Joe Hisaishi’s best work. The soundtrack immensely captures the beauty of the film and the general atmosphere that it was striving to achieve. The best piece Ghibli has ever put out is “A Town with an Ocean View”, as it is immensely visceral and awe inspiring, and it beats out Spirited Away’s main theme, “The Name of Life”. The other pieces helped solidify the scenes that they were placed in as well. All around this soundtrack is Hisaishi’s most emotionally striking soundtrack, even when some may argue that it isn’t his absolute best.

This is Miyazaki’s masterpiece. After seeing most of what Ghibli had to offer – from the bad, to the nauseatingly slow average, to the very good, I can assure readers that this is Miyazaki’s crème de la crème. This movie contends heavily with some others that Takahata has put out, and uncertainty always arises when trying to make sure what Ghibli’s absolute magnum opus is. Regardless of that, this is Miyazaki’s visceral masterpiece, without a shadow of a doubt.

Kiki's Delivery Service resonates with me more than any other movie I've seen. Filled with inspiration, warmth and tenderness, it's perhaps the best example of a coming-of-age story I've seen in anime to date. While most Ghibli fans prefer the likes of Spirited Away or Mononoke Hime, and while I love and adore those films passionately, I personally feel that Kiki's Delivery Service is their best work, and Miyazaki's best directed film. Everything about this movie just brings me a smile and always brings me up when I feel down. What makes this movie great is that it doesn't have huge ambition; it's not here to tell you about the consequences of relying too much on technology, or destroying the natural earth, confronting the spirits of the forest. Of life. But it's simply the story of a young girl coming to terms with growing up and living in an entirely new town with total strangers. Transitioning from the comfort of her quiet country side hometown, to the hustle and bustle of an urban area. Being independent for the first time is a terrifying experience for anyone, but it's also enlightening, as you can learn more about yourself and others than you thought. Kiki's Delivery Service showcases those ups and downs brilliantly. From an awkward introduction to baffled strangers on the streets, to starting her own business and befriending her clients, to meeting the owner of a Bakery who immediately shows a keen interest in the young girl, taking the role of a sort of mother figure to her. You meet all sorts of characters in this movie, all of them with an interesting or realistic characteristic. From a gruff looking, but gentle husband of the Bakery owner, to a boy who is extremely passionate about flight and aircrafts(even attempting to lodge a propeller onto his bike to try to get some air) who develops an immediate infatuation with Kiki, to a painter who takes comfort living in the middle of the woods, befriending the hordes of crows that live in it. And then there is Kiki herself; at first glance she is cheerful, if a little naive. Honest, yet surprisingly old fashioned("It's not polite to ask a persons name without introducing yourself first!"). The thing I love about her character is that she's so many things, so many qualities that show how much of a varied, complex, but very realistic character she really is. She isn't a spoiled brat, she isn't selfish, she isn't annoying. She's simply a little girl with her own quirks and principles. The film showcases the joys and pains of growing up finding your place in the world. At one point, she wearily laments the fact that she doesn't have pretty dresses, and she cannot afford that sparkling pair of red shoes that she gazes at through the window of a clothes shop. She sees her friend Tombo chatting and laughing with girls, sparking an immediate sense of jealousy from Kiki due to her insecurities. She wants nice things, she wants to wear a nice dress, she wants to talk to boys and make friends. But cannot afford it, nor does she have the time. She simply desires a lot of what girls probably want at that age or slightly older. It's what makes her human and convincing as a character. Even if you're not the same age group, or even gender, I feel that a lot of us have lived through moments where we feel so unsure of ourselves, feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation in the process. And even though she goes through times of insecurity, depression and feeling like she's in a rut. She also befriends and meets many people that find her remarkably charming, sweet and sincere. She experiences friendships, success in her business and feeling accomplished. The music, composed by the master himself, Joe Hisaishi. Is nothing short of perfect, the soundtrack has a very distinct European sound to it, also induces a large sense of nostalgia. From the early 60s pop sound of the opening, to the tender folk ballad of the ending. The soundtrack compliments nearly every scene in the movie to considerable effect. As expected! The animation and designs are also incredibly top notch. It's crisp, it's clear(I just recently purchased the bluray version), it brilliantly showcases the varied areas and backgrounds. Everything is just straight up gorgeous. The town itself, Koriko, an ideal version of a pre-WWII Northern European city is one of my favorite designed places in fiction. To the hectic main-roads, the quiet alleyways and side areas you could casually stroll through, to the gorgeous beaches and scenery. It's very romantic and exhilarating. I would personally love to live in a city like this. Despite what it does right, does it do anything wrong? Well, I wouldn't have minded if the movie went a bit more into the witch culture. In the story, when 12-13, a witch must leave her town and spend a year elsewhere, growing and learning, broadening their horizons essentially. But it's not really explained too much, but this is simply a nitpick as the film is more about Kiki and her experiences than all that. There's a certain warmth to this film that makes it feel like you're revisiting an old friend. I find it difficult to find any major faults in this movie. I've grown up watching it on tv dozens of times, and later in life revisiting it, only to truly then realize how special this film is to me. I never said that I would be objective or impartial in this review, that would be pointless and a disservice to the film. Kiki's Delivery Service makes you passionate, or just really happy and relaxed, whichever works for you. It's anime like this that proves to me yet again that animation can be a wonderful expression of art. If you've never seen this film, do yourself a favor and do so soon. Set up some free time during a quiet weekend afternoon and let yourself be enveloped in tenderness. Any constructive feedback is appreciated on this review!

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