Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) Hayao Miyazaki

As part of the World of Animated Dreams review, Lucky Red re-offers Kiki – Home Delivery; a piece erroneously considered by some to be a “minor” film in Hayao Miyazaki’s career, it instead manages to convey the themes of the Japanese master – and the inexhaustible poetry of his touch – in a lighter and more comfortable way. The result, again, is of absolute importance.

Season of the (Little) Witch

He is often referred to as “underage” Hayao Miyazaki, Kiki – Home Deliverya work that the master released in 1989, between two masterpieces recognized My Neighbor Totoro AND red pig. A definition that, although it may be justified to some extent, given the number of outstanding works that the Japanese director has created over a career of more than forty years, runs the risk of dismissing too hastily a work that, instead of its importance, and its exact place, in a memorable filmography in everything her corps. We say this because, if it is true that this work is perhaps the most direct, readable, and immediate result work in all of Miyazaki’s filmography, it is also true that this readability is primarily the result of a more outspoken youthful purpose rather than work precedent – serves here to emphasize, rather than soften, the themes and stylistic features that were already trademarks of the Japanese cinematographer then and that have made us love him over the years. Indeed, the Lucky Red revival of this work is in the context of a summer review world of animated dreams – ten years after his last visit to cinemas, he may serve to rediscover and better frame a work that should not be underestimated: a film in which Miyazaki’s relationship with cinema – and with his own wonderful “obsessions” – it appears clearly and with great force, in a playful container, light but by no means trivial or fleeting.

witch farm girl

Kiki - Home Delivery, Kiki and Osono in scene
Kiki – Home Delivery, Kiki and Osono in a movie scene

Inspired by Eiko Kadono’s novel of the same name, the film centers on a very young witch, Kiki, who, at the age of thirteen, is traditionally sent to gain experience away from home in order to complete her witch apprenticeship. Kiki, full of enthusiasm and curiosity for the world beyond her microcosm, leaves with her broom and her black cat Jiji, landing in Koriko City; here, in a place that immediately captivates her with elements such as the clock tower and the presence of the sea, the girl meets Osono, the owner of a local bakery, who immediately offers her a job delivering home. But Kiki, in her new city, also quickly becomes acquainted with Tonbo, an oddball of her age, who immediately shows intense curiosity about her. But Kiki’s adventure in a new independent life is just beginning and will not pass without obstacles.

“Magic” uhrony

Kiki - Home Delivery, Kiki and Tombo in an acrobatic scene
Kiki – Home Delivery, Kiki and Tombo in an acrobatic movie scene

Unlike many past (and future) Miyazaki films, it is impossible to put Kiki – Home Delivery in a certain historical setting or in a certain geographic setting: Miyazaki’s film rather takes place in a kind of parallel universe centered on a city in Japan that nonetheless exhibits distinctly Western features (the director himself has stated that he took the model of Lisbon) . ; but in the setting we also find mixed features of Paris, Amsterdam and various other European cities). On the other hand, the declared temporal setting would be a kind of alternative version of the 1950s: an idealized space-time context in which Miyazaki wanted to embody on the screen the dream of a world that was never disturbed by the tragedy of World War II. Here one can already find one of the reasons that characterized Miyazaka’s iconography far and wide, namely the passion for European architecture and the taste for contamination with Japanese architecture. But the fantastic universe of the film is also enriched with another important element: in the society described in Kiki – Home DeliveryIndeed, witches with their magical powers are recognized and quietly accepted by people, even if they are described as increasingly rare. Thus, the scenario represents the peaceful coexistence of modern society and magical society, the latter, however, being in the process of progressive but inexorable marginalization.

Identity Wanted

Kiki - Home Delivery Kiki drinking tea in one scene
Kiki – Home Delivery, Kiki drinking tea in a movie scene

It is from the relationship between the rational element and the magical that one of the main themes arises. Kiki – Home Delivery: it is a timeless contrast between tradition and modernity, with a problematic balance between conservation and the need for innovation. A dialectic embodied here in stark contrast between Kiki’s quiet life in her small hometown—with the simplicity of her family rituals—and a chaotic, hectic, and stupefying urban existence, not without its charm for the young protagonist, but nonetheless perceived as treacherous. It is no coincidence that the protagonist’s first encounter with city life is nothing short of traumatic: her arrival on a broom is unsettling and confronts (literally) urban madness that leaves little room for Kiki’s naïve curiosity and relationship-building propensity. . A contrast echoing the intimate contrast of the protagonist, split between the desire for independence, expressed in the purchase of a new broom, and the safe path laid out for her by adults; as well as between the desire to unite and merge with their peers from the city and the desire to maintain their special identity as a witch. The effective description that the scenario of the relationship between Kiki and Tonbo provides is set in this context, marked by that ballet of approach and departure – a double movement plastically expressed in the sequence of the final rescue – which well reflects the typical uncertainty of adolescence. . The average age at which a personality is formed, and the crisis is always just around the corner: the crisis that the main character herself will experience, in the second part of the film, with the weakening of her strength, is a sign of a refusal of self-understanding and acceptance. And, not surprisingly, Kiki will need to get away from the rhythms of the city, return to a more peaceful and intimate dimension (in the hut of the artist Ursula) in order to reconnect with herself and overcome her fears.

Linearity and poetry

Kiki - Home Delivery Kiki and Tombo in a beautiful scene
Kiki – Home Delivery, Kiki and Tombo in a beautiful movie scene

It is probably true that in Kiki – Home Delivery many of the symbols with which Miyazaki distributed his cinema are present to a lesser extent; It is also true that in this work the passion for Western history and culture has probably taken over the more local component of his cinema, helping to make the film more suitable for Western audiences (especially young people). However, to underestimate this work as a secondary one or to give it, as we said at the beginning, the name of a “minor film”, it would be unfair to the lyricism of the approach even in the simplest story, which remains intact and clear, and to the organicity of themes and narrative techniques in within the director’s filmography, which would be absurd to ignore. As with all Miyazaki films – and more generally for Studio Ghibli works – the technical level remains very high, just as the contribution of Joe Hisaishi’s music is fundamental, able to again strike the brain and heart; but the success of the work must be attributed primarily, again, to the “magic” touch of the director (and it is appropriate to say this here), to his ability to fill even the most straightforward story with poetry. We will never tire of reliving it again, this unique ability, preferably on the big screen.


Kiki's home delivery movie poster



Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Country/year: Japan / 1989
Duration: 103′
Type: Fantasy, Comedy, Adventure, Animation
Throw: Akio Otsuka, Chika Sakamoto, Haruko Kato, Hiroko Maruyama, Hiroko Seki, Koichi Yamadera, Tomomichi Nishimura, Kappei Yamaguchi, Keiko Toda, Kikuko Inoue, Koichi Miura, Mieko Nobusawa, Mika Doi, Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Shinpachi Tsuji, Sho Saito , Takaya Hashi, Toshiko Asai, Yoshiko Kamei, Yuriko Fuchizaki, Yuko Kobayashi, Yuko Maruyama, Yuko Tsuga
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Photo: Shigeo Sugimura
Assembly: Takeshi Seyama
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Director: Toshio Suzuki, Hayao Miyazaki
Production house: Nibariki, Nippon Television Network (NTV), Kiki’s Delivery Service Production Committee, Studio Ghibli, Yamato Transport, Tokuma Shoten
Distribution: Lucky Red

Release date: 07/13/2023


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Journalist and film critic. I am or have collaborated with various web and print publications including (in chronological order) L’Acchiappafilm, and Since 2018, I have been a consultant for the Stelle Diverse and Aspie Saturday Film psychoeducational reviews organized by the CuoreMenteLab center in Rome. In 2019, I founded the website Asbury Movies, of which I am the Editor and Managing Director.

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