Hmm. What a cool witch!
My local arthouse theater has started a monthly anime screening and I have to admit that anime is one of the massive, massive holds in my cinematic experience. Prior to this series starting, the only real anime film I’d seen was Miyazaki’s latest, The Wind Rises. I unfortunately didn’t get to the Spirited Away screening, but I’m still going to use it as an excuse to hopefully finally catch up with it on Blu-Ray, but I was able to catch the screening of this film, the film that basically introduced Miyazaki to the west in a mainstream way when this was the first anime film distributed by Disney. It’s a real winner for a lot of reasons. It’s the story of Kiki, a young witch struggling to make it on her own after leaving home at the witch-mandated age of thirteen. And it’s a wonderful real-world exploration of witchcraft if that makes any sense. There are no super-powers here; Kiki can fly on a broom and that’s about it really, so her problems are not of the earth-shaking, battle-between-ancient-forces kind. They’re of the “I lost the package I’m supposed to deliver” kind, the “I can’t get this darn oven to work” kind, the “why won’t this boy leave me alone” kind, the “appointment at six and I’m going to be late” kind. Late in the film, I was just praying that there wouldn’t some kind of twist in which an external “villain” would appear and, no spoilers, there wasn’t, though there is a larger incident that forces Kiki to really push herself in a bigger way than she has to that point in the film. But it remains a simple look at a young girl struggling with independence, with growing up and maturing. But a magical, beautifully realized one. The visuals are wonderful, really transporting in a cool way. And it really is an animated film that is for children in a lot of ways that is about real world problems, the issues of growing up and, first and foremost, about character over incident. The film is really kind of just a series of vignettes, instead of a single overarching plot. I can’t tell you how much I love that someone thought, and quite rightly, that children would actually love a movie this plotless, meandering and character based. And as a character study, it really works; the supporting characters are also really good on the whole, but it’s Kiki’s character that really brings the story to life; Miyazaki is kind of notorious for crafting some of the best lead female characters in animation, perhaps in cinema as a whole, and I have to say this is a great example of that. In a world where there simply aren’t enough movies focusing on female characters of any kind, it’s great to see a movie that is from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl that is intelligent and self-determining; and the film treats her everyday struggles with total respect and seriousness. This is an animated film that parents can feel good about showing their young daughters, I’ll say that for sure.
I should mention that, though the theater showed the subtitled version of The Wind Rises, this was the English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service from Disney, which isn’t really my preferred way of seeing foreign films. But is a somewhat edited version of that dub in which several lines in the original Disney release that weren’t actually taken from the Japanese version have been removed and some of the original Japanese score has been reinstated in place of the original Disney music track. I think this “closer to the original” version was released by Disney in 2010, so it might be worth checking out if you’re only familiar with the original 1998 Disney dub, which apparently took some fairly serious liberties. I did really love Phil Hartman’s very funny performance as Jiji, Kiki’s black cat, so, as dubs go, maybe this one actually works well, I’d say. Anyway, I’m digging the Circle’s silent film series and this anime series looks to be just as good at helping me fill some holes in my cinematic knowledge. Next month, Princess Mononoke, genuinely considered, I think, to be one of the two or three best animes ever, so looking forward to that. 4 stars.
tl;dr – seminal anime film is charming, beautifully characterized and intelligent; add in a genuinely inspiring message for children and you have a classic. 4 stars.