Kiki’s Delivery Service is a Japanese coming-of-age story about a young witch who faces a traditional year out of home during which she must establish her independence.
This year’s movie will inevitably be compared with director Hayao Miyazaki’s award-winning 1989 animated film of the same name. The latest film has been popular in Japan, but the reasons for that are unclear.
Fuka Koshiba is never quite believable as a 13-year-old Kiki, and not only because she is clearly older than that. Her manicured hands contradict the notion, too, and her mannerisms often don’t ring true.
The blue-screen effects are not up to current standards. In fact, the production quality and characterisations are reminiscent of late afternoon children’s shows in the 1970s. This is not the deliberate result of nostalgia for the good old days but rather, one imagines, due to budget constraints.
So how well does the story itself work? The attitude of people in the village where Kiki finds a place to stay is to accept witches as long as they are useful, but fear and xenophobia lurk beneath that veneer. Kiki’s slowly gained trust is quickly shattered by the smallest gesture and she is suddenly shunned. She needs to find a way to win back their regard and that opportunity soon arises.
Issues of dealing with difference, standing up for oneself, and winning the trust of others are fine as mainstays for a junior audience, though somewhat moralistic. Regardless of the age of viewers, however, they need to be presented with some finesse; it is not acceptable to “talk down” to younger people, as this movie does, by cutting corners on narrative structure and over-simplifying. At 108 minutes, it might not overstay its welcome with a younger child, but even that is uncertain.
There are a few animated elements, such as Kiki’s talking black cat Jiji and the occasional other creature. The musical accompaniment is essentially one tune woven into a sub-plot about a sad singer who has ended her singing career. Will Kiki’s actions magically produce happiness for her? The outcome with that thread is predictable.
Publicity notes for the 2014 version seem concerned that comparisons to the older Studio Ghibli film be set aside. That’s much easier said than done, and the rationale for reviving the story is questionable when it is underdone like this. It rubs salt in the wound that Studio Ghibli may have ceased movie-making. Kiki’s Delivery Service in 2014 is a lacklustre effort.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is showing at the Mercury Cinema on October 19 as part of the Japanese Film Festival.
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