Friday, August 20, 2010

Kiki's Delivery Service

It's always bittersweet when you get close to running out of unseen films by a favorite director. I don't know how many more stories Hayao Miyazaki has left in him, and now the only ones I haven't watched are his first, The Castle of Cagliostro, and his most recent, Ponyo. Luckily, Kiki's Delivery Service was one of the best, so the experience of seeing the work of possibly the best director of animation ever continued to be pleasant.

On the face of it, there's not much that sets Kiki and her story apart from most of Miyazaki's other work. The main character is a young girl on an exciting adventure. Unlike many fantasy heroes, she's allowed to have loving parents. The story is almost too warmhearted, but it never quite steps over that line. It's appropriately funny and charming in parts, but it gets serious when it needs to for the sake of a natural plot. In some ways it's basically boilerplate Miyazaki, not really separating itself from his other work, but the success is all in the execution. It's wonderfully animated, touching, gripping in its dramatic moments - there's really nothing it doesn't get right. Of all his work starring little girls, this one was my favorite.

This is one of the few Miyazaki films not based on his own idea, but it fits right into his style. The only difference might be that the main character herself is the source of the fantastic element in the plot, rather than a normal child wandering into a world of wonder. Kiki is a young witch, who at the age of 13 is ready to fly to a new town in order to hone her skills for a year. She runs into some trouble at first, but thanks to a kind baker, settles into a town by the sea. She doesn't really have any skills besides flying on her broom, so she quickly starts a business delivering things around the area while helping in the bakery. They find ways to make the deliveries difficult and perilous adventures despite some rather mundane circumstances, as simple things like an angry pack of crows or some rain can become major issues.

Kiki makes some friends in her new home, but before long some things start going poorly and she begins struggling with her identity, and the very nature of her being a witch. As can be expected though, she eventually perseveres and of course saves the day in the end, in one of the film's more thrilling flight sequences. In the end it's a pretty simple story, but again it succeeds because everything about it was just done with an exceptional amount of skill and grace. You don't need to get super fancy, the right amount of simple craftsmanship will take you a long way. I'm kind of glad it took so long to see this one, because it's one of the crown jewels in a brilliant man's body of work.

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