The vault’s month-long ode to witches, a.k.a Witch, Please!, comes to a close today with perhaps an unexpected twist. From women unaware of their witchiness to schoolgirl outcasts hungry for supernatural power to gnarled, kid-unfriendly hags to time-traveling male witches, there’s little ground left to cover except for the goodhearted witch. Since I don’ t foresee many of these showing up in American Horror Story: Coven, I thought it best to end the series on a lighter note.
Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) lies by the water’s edge, listening to the radio announcer predict a clear night sky for seeing the full moon. Beaming with excitement, thirteen year old Kiki runs home, and declares it to be the night she’s leaving home. Like her mother, Kiki is a witch and tradition dictates at thirteen she must leave home to hone her craft and learn independence. Kiki leaves her village with her sarcastic black cat Jiji (Phil Hartman) in tow, and soon discovers the port city of Koriko. Since the bustling city has no resident witch, she puts down roots in the attic of the recently befriended bakery owner, Osono (Tress MacNielle). There Kiki lends a hand around the shop and runs her new flying delivery service. Life in the city and her business seems to be going well, until one day Kiki awakes to discover her magic is fading.
First produced by, and eventually re-written and directed by the acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki, the version of his anime film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, I believe I watched is the second English version based on the character voices and slight Disney-fied changes I noticed. Even with a few details being lost (or abandoned) in translation, the theme of overcoming internal conflict and growing into adulthood are universally understood.
Around fifteen at the time, Kirsten Dunst lends Kiki’s voice a certain melodious quality bringing the character’s childlike optimism and general good nature through. It is her good nature that’s tested by the stress of responsibility and the ungrateful attitudes of some that she meets. Kiki is fortunate enough to encounter the generous and equally good-natured Osono shortly after an altercation with the police. Though Tombo (Matthew Lawrence) helps her evade the police, it takes time for Kiki to warm to his city ways. While on her first delivery, forest-dwelling artist Ursula (Janeane Garafalo) proves to be a wise confidant and teacher. During a later delivery, it is the friend Kiki finds in the kindly Madame (Debbie Reynolds) that helps restore her faith.
Like many of Miyazaki’s films, Kiki’s Delivery Service doesn’t feature an antagonist or villain that Kiki must defeat. It’s a tough concept to reconcile; even I found myself pondering what ulterior motives Ursula and Tombo had for coming around Kiki or if the ungrateful girl would turn out to be some sort of bully or evil witch. I had to remind myself it’s a G-rated film and a foreign film not required to conform to a story’s expected trappings.
It’s a refreshing change of pace to watch a movie that focuses on the character’s plight to find inspiration and confidence. Miyazaki’s intended audience for Kiki’s Delivery Service may have been Japanese teenage girls, but it’s message is worth being reminded of be you man or woman, young or old.