The films of Hayao Miyazaki function best when they meander and don’t seem to try too hard. An effortless narrative with characters that seem to live and breath, that’s the key of a Miyazaki film. Kiki’s Delivery Service is possibly the most successful in these areas. Its main character, the young witch-in-training named Kiki, is such a real little girl it’s shocking. The same can be said of Tombo, Kiki’s male friend she meets in the city. This is never-minding Jiji the cat, Ursula the painter, or Osono the pregnant bakery owner. All of the characters are fun and fill in the world of the film in fun and satisfying ways.
The story is simple enough: Kiki, now thirteen, is to leave home and spend a year training on her own as a witch. She leaves home with her trusty black cat (a staple for all witches) Jiji, and flies away on her witch’s broomstick to a coast town where she decides to set up a delivery service. While there she meets Tombo, a young boy who runs an aviation club and goes sweet on her because she can fly, and she also meets a painter, Ursula, who lives a bit of a bohemian life in an off-the-grid cabin in the middle of the forest.
There is no real plot and the film completely lacks in any sort of villain, yet these are not detriments to the movie. Miyazaki does not need the typical trappings of a normal movie to keep his audience interested or to even make the film reasonably compelling. Kiki’s Delivery Service works as a simple slice of life and it builds its drama from the sort of everyday situations that a young witch might find herself in.
If it all sounds absurd it’s because it actually is, of course. But that’s the lovely pleasure that flows out of Miyazaki’s films. His cinema operates in a realm where plot is unimportant and the logic of day-to-day life is irrelevant. Kiki’s Delivery Service features no conflict to speak of, but moves forward in such a way that we really come to care about Kiki and whether she succeeds or fails. When you watch this movie you find yourself rooting for her like you might your own child or the child of a close friend.
Many years ago the late film critic Roger Ebert did an interview with Hayao Miyazaki, and one of my favorite filmmaking quotes comes from that interview:
“The people who make the movies are scared of silence, so they want to paper and plaster it over,” he said. “They’re worried that the audience will get bored. They might go up and get some popcorn.” Hayao Miyazaki
Kiki’s Delivery Service features the typicals: a strong leading female character (along with strong female side characters), cute creatures (here the talking cat Jiji), and the ever present, always lovely visual element of flight.
The Ebert-Miyazaki interview can be read here: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/hayao-miyazaki-interview