Blu-ray Review: ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’

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The trials and tribulations of teen witches and wizards have become worldwide phenomenon. Unlike Mildred Hubble or Sabrina Spellman, however, the eponymous heroine of Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no takkyûbin, 1989) is spared the hassle of concealing her powers. The opposite, in fact: 13-year-old Kiki is obliged to leave home for a year as part of her witch training to find a new town and hone her skills. Heading to a coastal city, Kiki founds a delivery service, turning her ability to fly a broomstick into a source of employment. Based on a novel by Eiko Kadono, this Ghibli heartwarmer is now available on Blu-ray.

Kiki’s Delivery Service doesn’t have the spiritual weirdness of Hayao Miyazaki’s later masterpieces Princess Mononoke (1997) or Spirited Away (2001), nor the sweeping scale which characterised both his earlier and later work. In place of an epic adventure, Kiki’s is a more episodic, character-driven piece that succeeds entirely by keeping the stakes low until the very last moment, and then raising Kiki to a dramatic, heroic peak. It’s a sweet, small story that deals comfortably in big emotions when required, whilst also taking time to speculate on the nature of art and the difficulties of navigating adolescence. One of the greatest triumphs of Miyazaki’s movie, however, is how well-defined each of its characters truly are.

The American cast is headlined by a young Kirsten Dunst as the voice of Kiki, with Phil Hartman as the voice of her cat, Jiji – a vocal performance that’s both outrageously cartoonish and charmingly in-key with the feline’s sardonic character. (The Blu-ray includes the original Japanese audio track with subtitles, for the purists.) This high definition rerelease also proves a gorgeous platform to show off Studio Ghibli’s high quality animation. The palette of clear, clean pastel shades has a bright, light look, and the disc also includes a huge number of terrific bonus features, ranging from lengthy documentaries on individual aspects of the film’s conception and legacy to the storyboards for the entire film.

Not the most obscure of Miyazaki and Ghibli’s works, but far from the most fervently celebrated here in the West, Kiki’s Delivery Service ought to be far better known that it is. Rarely does an animated tale feature a protagonist quite so bold and sweet as Kiki without being condescending; what’s more, only sporadically does a film thrill quite so frequently as this one does in spades.

David Sugarman

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