Saturday, September 8, 2018

Stubs - Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989, version reviewed 1998) Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono. Produced by Hayao Miyazaki. Run Time: 102 minutes. Japan. Animation, Adventure.

Soon after the release of My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Hayao Miyazaki released his next film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, based on a novel by Eiko Kadono first published in 1985 as Majo no Takkyūbin. The first of a series of novels: Majo no Takkyūbin 2: Kiki to Atarashii Mahō (Witch's Express Home Delivery 2: Kiki and Her New Magic?) in 1993; Majo no Takkyūbin 3: Kiki to mō Hitori no Majo (Witch's Express Home Delivery 3: Kiki and the Other Witch?) in 2000; Majo no Takkyūbin 4: Kiki no Koi (Witch's Express Home Delivery 4: Kiki's Love?)  in 2004; Majo no Takkyūbin 5: Mahō no Tomarigi (Witch's Express Home Delivery 5: Perch of Magic?) in 2007 and Majo no Takkyūbin 6: Sorezore no Tabidachi Witch's Express Home Delivery 6: Each and Every Departure?) in 2009. It is no surprise that Hayao Miyazaki’s movie based on the first book plays like the first part of a longer series.

It was not Miyazaki’s intent to write and direct the film. He had chosen Sunao Katabuchi, someone he had worked with before, to direct the film. And Studio Ghibli hired Nobuyuki Isshiki to be the screenwriter. Since the book took place in a fictional European nation, Miyazaki and his creative team had gone to Stockholm, Sweden as well as the Swedish Island of Gotland to research settings and other elements for the project.

Upon their return, Miyazaki started to develop his own ideas. He had already been disappointed in the first script and his ideas would change the story from the book’s episodic approach to Kiki’s story and adding in elements not found in the book. Kadono was not happy with the changes and the whole project was on the verge of being shelved before the first frame was shot. But after she visited Ghibli at Miyazaki’s and Toshio Suzuki’s request, she decided to let the project move forward. Miyazaki ended up writing the screenplay and decided to direct the film itself.

Released in Japan in 1989, Kiki’s Delivery Service was a modest success in its home country, earning the equivalent of $18 million on a budget of a little less than $7 million. The first U.S. release came via Streamline Pictures, which used Lisa Michelson as Kiki, Kerrigan Mahan as Jiji, Alexandra Kenworthy as Osono and Edie Mirman as Ursula.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, when Disney got rights to the film, they redubbed the English version and actually made further changes to the film, which were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. In place of Michelson, Kirsten Dunst was cast as Kiki. Phil Hartman, who would be making his final film appearance, was cast as her cat Jiji. Standup comic and actress Janeane Garofalo was cast as Ursula and Debbie Reynolds was cast in a smaller role as Madame.

Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) packs her things anticipating her leaving home.

The film opens on the verge of a full moon. Kiki (Dunst), who is thirteen, is anxious to get on with her trip. As a young witch, she is to leave home and spend a year studying somewhere else. Kiki’s mother, Kokiri (Kath Soucie), a practicing witch herself, seems unable to talk her young daughter from leaving. She explains to Miss Dora (Fay DeWitt), a family friend, that she has not had a chance to train her daughter at all, which makes her departure sound even more problematic.

Kiki’s father, Okino (Jeff Bennett), is unable to talk Kiki out of leaving.

Kiki’s father, Okino (Jeff Bennett), comes home from work and is also unable to talk Kiki out of leaving that night when there is to be a full moon. Kiki packs her belongings in a bag and plans to leave along with her black cat Jiji (Hartman) whom she communicates with. Jiji is not as anxious to leave as Kiki is, but he really has no choice in the matter.

Kiki's mother (Kath Soucie) insists Kiki take her broom.

At first, Kiki wants to use a broom that she herself has fashioned, but her mother insists that she take the broom she has been using instead. And with a group of friends there to wish her luck, Kiki and Jiji set off on their year-long adventure; destination unknown. The wind is strong and Kiki has to get Jiji to turn on her father’s transistor radio that she has attached to the broom handle. While they are flying they see another young witch, Senior Witch (Debi Derryberry), and a black cat also flying close by and try to engage her in conversation.

Kiki tries to make conversation with Senior Witch (Debi Derryberry), another witch she meets in flight.

This girl, who claims to be a fortune teller, is near the end of her training and is really not very encouraging to Kiki. As soon as she descends into her town, a major thunderstorm comes through, forcing Kiki out of the skies. She and Jiji take refuge in what they discover the next day is a cattle car on a moving train, making a bed in the hay that is suspended for the cow’s to eat in transit.

Tombo Kopoli (Matthew Lawrence) helps Kiki get away from a policeman.

The next morning, after the storm has passed, Kiki and Jiji get on their way and head towards Koriko, a fairly large city which is on the ocean, which appeals to her. Not really sure what to expect, Kiki descends into the city and gets caught up in the wind, nearly causing a major traffic accident. A policeman catches her and is about to book her when a boy, Tombo Kopoli (Matthew Lawrence), who is smitten with the girl, pretends to need the policeman’s help. This allows Kiki to escape. But when Tombo approaches her, she is not interested in speaking to him.

Osono (Tress MacNeille), a very pregnant baker, has a customer's forgotten pacifier which Kiki offers to return.

After trying to find a room for the night at a major hotel, Kiki catches a break. Standing outside a bakery run by a very pregnant Osono (Tress MacNeille) and her nearly mute husband, she overhears the store owner trying to get the attention of a customer who has recently left. The woman, who has a very young child, has left the baby’s pacifier. Osono is going to have to stop serving customers to take chase when Kiki offers to run the errand for her. Osono is surprised and amazed to find out that Kiki is a witch. When Kiki returns from the errand, Osono invites her in for hot chocolate and eventually offers the girl a room to live in and breakfast, as long as she’ll occasionally help in the shop. Kiki agrees to the terms.

Osono makes Kiki hot chocolate and offers her a job and a place to stay.

Because Kiki’s only talent is her ability to fly, she decides to go into the delivery business and Osono helps her there as well. In fact, she helps her get her first client, Maki (Julia Fletcher), who has a gift she needs to be delivered for her nephew’s birthday that she won’t be able to attend. The gift is a stuffed cat which looks just like Jiji in a cage. But the delivery does not go without incident.

Maki (Julia Fletcher) is Kiki's first delivery customer.

On the way, Kiki flies next to a flock of geese which Jiji is able to understand. He hears them warning about a big gust of wind which Kiki misses out on. As a result, she is blown off course and into the trees, falling next to a bird’s nest. She is called an egg thief by all the birds and she gets chased away. Only then do they realize that the stuffed animal has been lost in the fall.

Her first delivery isn't without issues.

Rather than go back and fight the birds, they go on to Ket’s (Julia Fletcher), the nephew’s house, with Jiji being used as a replacement for the doll. Under the cover of darkness, Kiki goes back to look for the doll. She does find it in the window of Ursula’s (Janeane Garofalo) cabin. Ursula, who is an artist, offers to give her back the doll, but they find out that the head has come off. Ursula offers to sew the head back on the doll in exchange for Kiki doing something for her. So while Ursula sews the doll back together, Kiki scrubs her floor. Even though Kiki isn’t done by the time Ursula is, she’s allowed to take the doll to rescue Jiji.

Ursula (Janeane Garofalo) helps Kiki out of a jam.

Meanwhile, JiJi has befriended the family’s Saint Bernard, who takes Jiji outside to where Kiki is waiting. The dog even takes the doll back inside.

Even though Kiki has given him the cold shoulder, Tombo hasn’t given up on her. He invites her to a gathering of his friends, who are all into flying. He doesn’t give her a chance to say no and promises to come to pick her up at 6. But Kiki gets another delivery job, this time to take a pie for Madame (Debbie Reynolds) to her granddaughter for her birthday. Madame has a friend, Barsa (Edie McClurg), who helps her around the house.

Kiki makes friends with Madame (Debbie Reynolds).

But the pie isn’t quite done, so Kiki helps the two load and ignite a firewood oven to cook the pie to completion. Madame and Barsa are both very impressed by the young girl.

This delivery doesn’t go any smoother than the first one, as a thunderstorm comes up and drenches Kiki and Jiji. When they do make it to the granddaughter’s (Sherry Lynn) house, she is nonplused, not liking her grandmother’s pies.

When Kiki gets back home, she has not only missed Tombo but she has also caught a cold. Osono tries her best to take care of Kiki, who does recover. Osono tells Kiki that Tombo has come by to see her, but that she had sent him away. Osono does have another delivery, though for Kiki to make. Turns out to be to Tombo.

Tombo shows Kiki his propeller-powered bicycle.

Given the chance, the two actually talk and seem to bond. He shows her the propeller-powered bicycle that the gathering was celebrating the night before. Tombo talks Kiki into going with him to see a dirigible that has landed on the beach. The two ride down there on his bike but they don’t make it all the way before Tombo loses control and the two are forced off the road. While they laugh about their incident, friends of Tombo come by on their way to see the dirigible. Even though he invites her to come along with them, Kiki turns down the offer and walks back to her home.

With his friends’ help, Tombo gets to ride on the dirigible. Kiki sees him from a distance and he waves to her, but she doesn’t reciprocate. Tombo even calls her to tell her about his experience, but she hangs up on him.

Kiki finds she's losing the ability to communicate with her cat Jiji (Phil Hartman).

Later, Kiki realizes that she is losing her ability to fly, the thing that she feels makes her a witch. She tries in vain to take flight, breaking her mother’s broom in the process. Further upsetting her is her inability to communicate with Jiji, who appears to have lost the power of speech while he pursues romantic interests with another cat. Depressed, Kiki stays in her room until one day when Ursula comes to town to do some shopping and to see her. She invites Kiki back to her cabin in the woods.

Ursula comes to town to visit with Kiki.

Ursula has been painting a mural about Kiki and needs the girl to pose for sketches so she can complete it. While they’re there, Ursula talks about the magic of art and how much she loves painting. She describes how one day she found that she couldn’t paint anymore and compares that situation to Kiki’s. She tells the younger girl that if she gives herself time away from worrying about it, she’ll get past the mental block. With that knowledge, Kiki returns home.

She gets another delivery job and is called back to Madame’s house. Barsa is pretty excited about the dirigible, which is on the television. There is a live report going on about the airship’s being buffeted by the wind that has once again begun to blow hard.

Madame bakes a special cake for Kiki.

The delivery is really more of a ruse, as Madame has baked a cake for Kiki, wanting to be friends with the girl. Kiki is happy and excited and the two plan to be friends.

Tombo gets carried away by a dirigible.

Meanwhile, things are getting worse with the dirigible. People on the ground are trying very hard to keep it moored, even going so far as to tie it to the bumper of a police car. Tombo is there, trying to help and unfortunately, he is the only one still holding the ropes when the dirigible is carried off the ground. He hangs on helplessly while the crew of the dirigible is helpless to help him. He slides down the rope and unfortunately dislodges the police car, sending it falling into a swimming pool below. When the dirigible is blown into the town’s clock tower, Tombo is left dangling.

Kiki takes it upon herself to rescue Tombo.

Kiki takes it upon herself to try and save him. Borrowing a street cleaner’s broom, Kiki manages to fly, but the rescue doesn’t go smoothly. Before she can get him, Tombo loses his grip and is sent falling to the ground. Kiki manages to fly down and save him before he hits. After saving him, Kiki is now renowned about town and is treated like a hero by the townspeople.

Kiki becomes a local hero as a result and even sees an imitator on the street.

The film ends with Kiki having sent a letter home to her parents, telling them that she’s settling in and feeling good about herself.

I have not read the original story, but I’m struck by the haphazardness of Kiki’s journey. One thinks of young witches studying with someone or someplace where they will be with others like them; Harry Potter had Hogwarts come to mind. Not sure what a young witch will learn going out on her own without guidance to a strange city or how making deliveries and working the counter at a bakery is going to sharpen her undeveloped skills. I know that’s not really the point of the movie really, but, as a parent, I had issues with the premise.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the movie, I did, but I really am left wanting more. Kiki’s Delivery Service is more a slice of life and it leaves itself open for further stories. Rather than more films in the series, the story has since been remade as a live-action film, Kiki's Delivery Service (2014). While Miyazaki’s film is more universal in its appeal and perhaps truer to the original story, which is set in Europe, the live-action film is aimed more squarely at a Japanese audience.

The voice acting is good. I will admit that the only voice I recognized was Phil Hartman’s, who plays Jiji with more than just a hint of sarcasm. His is the most distinctive of the voices. Having watched this film since the passing of Debbie Reynolds, I didn’t recognize her as Madame. That doesn’t take away from the performances of the actors, which for the most part were very good and believable in their tone.

The look of the film is very much like My Neighbor Totoro, which used a very similar color palette and animation style. His research trip to Sweden really paid off as Koriko looks very European without being too specific to one city in particular. A grand background to place the story against. Unlike Totoro, Kiki’s world, save for the flying witches, is not populated with magical creatures, just humans. I really like how they capture the characters moving about, sometimes even stumbling, which makes it seem more real in a way.

A film should leave you wanting more and this film certainly did that. Not only do I want more stories about Kiki, but I’m looking forward to more movies by Hayao Miyazaki. I would highly recommend Kiki’s Delivery Service to anyone, though maybe not for very young children. While Disney may control the rights to the film, this is not a Disney film.

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