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Kiki's Delivery Service
Like the best films made for children, Kiki enthralls adults and children alike
Kiki's Delivery Service
Buena Vista
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Japan, 1989
If Kiki's Delivery Service weren't the first Ghibli Studio movie Disney distributed on video, I probably wouldn't review it here. On the face of it, it doesn't relate much to science fiction.

After all, consider the premise: Kiki, a thirteen-year old witch, must follow the witches' custom—leave home, move to a city without a witch, and over the course of a year discover her specialty.

One could make the case that Kiki falls into the "what-if" class of SF—what if witches were accepted members of society? And, like a lot of good SF, Kiki uses a fantastical premise as an allegory to real-world situations.

Okay, enough justification.

After a few awkward situations, Kiki eventually sets up a delivery service, bustling from door to door on her broom, accompanied by her sarcastic black cat Jiji. Along the way, she makes friends with Tombo, a local kid who is obsessed with the idea of flying.

In a nutshell, that's it. Kiki, like Ghibli's earlier My Neighbor Totoro, is sometimes accused of being "slow" because "nothing happens"—meaning there's no overt, overriding conflict or crisis, like those that fuel most animated movies. In reality, a lot happens: Kiki grows up.

She doesn't grow up in that nouveau-Disney way, either. You know, where she follows her heart, saves the day, gets the guy, and learns a life lesson, all in just under 90 minutes. During Kiki's Delivery Service's two hours, Kiki tries to find out where she fits in in the world, and, it seems, discover who she really is—in short, the very real "adventures" that 13-year-old girls go through. (And if you don't think that's filled with drama, you don't really remember being 13.)

That she flies around on a broom and converses with her cat would almost seem superfluous, but there's a purpose—three, actually—to her having magic abilities. First, they propel a metaphor for growing up and the awkwardness early teens can feel, both physically and emotionally. (The observant viewer will notice that Kiki's flight ability parallels the stages of growing up. For instance, in the early stages of the film, what she lacks in flying skills she makes up for with her enthusiasm.) Second, flying around on her broom allows her to meet all sorts of people, who contribute to her understanding of the world. Third, the sight of Kiki soaring into the air is breathtaking—so much so, the film radiates a pure, unbridled joy whenever Kiki is airborne. It seems as if Miyazaki can't direct a film without a flight scene, but he does them so masterfully that no one seems to mind.

Miyazaki has said in more than one interview that he makes most of his films for children, and yet Kiki, like the forthcoming Castle in the Sky, enthralls adults and children alike. His characters are so convincing and so human that anyone can find a common ground with them, no matter how fantastic their situation.

And isn't that what good SF is all about?

Originally printed in Parsec vol. 3, no. 2
Eight people - eight lives - one universal groove