REVIEW: Kiki’s Delivery Service (2014)

A young witch must undertake her rite of passage by living amongst humans and being of help to them for one year.


By Raymond Arcega
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Kiki’s Delivery Service

Original title:魔女の宅急便
Year: 2014
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Fantasy, Slice of Life
Director: Shimizu Takashi

Kiki (Koshiba Fuka) is a 13-year old girl with dreams. She is the daughter of a witch and a regular human, which gives her the option of becoming one or the other. Deciding on pursuing the path of becoming a full-fledged witch, she undertakes the rite of passage, in which she must live for one year in a town without other witches.

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She sets off on her magic broom with her best friend and cat Jiji (voiced by Kotobuki Minako) and settles into the port town of Koriko. She is met by both wonder and fear by the townsfolk, as they have never seen a witch before. Her spirits don’t dampen, however, as she is determined to befriend and be of help to them.

The young witch-in-training is taken in by a baker named Osono (Ono Machiko) her husband Fukuo (Yamamoto Hiroshi), who were touched by Kiki and her dreams. Using their bakery as a base of operation, she starts up a delivery service, in which she uses her powers of flight to hastily bring packages to residents of the area – many of whom live in tiny islands nearby.

Every fan of the Studio Ghibli masterpiece Kiki’s Delivery Service might have high expectations for this live-action adaptation. However, what everyone should keep in mind that this is not an adaptation of the animated film, but of the original novels. The story is different enough for fans to experience many new things.

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The live-action stars Koshiba Fuka, a figure skater who makes her feature-length film debut. For her first role in a film, she proved to be worthy to play the part. Her Kiki is a wide-eyed one with a dash of spunk and sass that many of us remember from the Studio Ghibli version. Koshiba is also naturally adorable – a trait which gives Kiki a natural charm. The only thing probably putting off about Koshiba’s portrayal is her age; Kiki is said to be 13 years old, but the 16-year old actress may or may not be able to convince you of that.

Hirota Ryuhei as Tonbo was an interesting portrayal which differed from the animated film. Tonbo is the leader/elder brother of a group of misfits who start off as annoyances to Kiki, but eventually become good friends with her. Hirota’s Tonbo is a bit of a prick, but only because of his shyness and hesitation to initially open up to Kiki. However, once they become friends, he becomes her ever-dependable friend.

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The live-action film’s Tonbo is noticeably different from the anime’s, who is a fun, charismatic, and street smart guy who constantly badger’s Kiki. However, live-action Tonbo seems to work out for the story, which as mentioned before, is different enough from the anime that fans will have a new experience for most of the way.

One major difference is that the live-action felt a lot more dramatic. The story’s focus is the coming-of-age of Kiki, whose journey will ultimately decide if she wants to pursue the life of living as a human or a witch. Affecting her decision are numerous obstacles and trials – specifically the animosity that the townsfolk have towards witches. To the people, Kiki’s appearance is mysterious and frightening, as they have never seen a witch before in their life. The majority of them have trouble interacting with Kiki without feeling fearful of becoming cursed.

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The animosity hits Kiki hard and sends her on a trip of depression, paving way for the struggle from which Kiki must make her ultimate decision: live life as a human, or a witch. If she chooses the life of a witch, she has to win over the hearts of the townsfolk. Doing so will be no easy task.

If there is anything that brings down the experience in any way, it’s the amateurish CG. The film’s CG sticks out like something out of the early 2000’s. It’s noticeable in Kiki’s cat Jiji and Maruko, the baby hippo of a local zoo – both of which are rendered in CG for the majority of the film. Even the green screen work was laughable, particularly during the scenes in which Kiki, flying on her broom, is shown interacting with the townsfolk; the juxtaposed images just didn’t blend well together.

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However, computer-aided visuals aside, the film accomplishes what it set out to do – tell a fantastical tale of a girl coming of age, and the struggles she experiences as she finds her feet and chooses her own destiny. It doesn’t offer any epic moments or breakthrough performances, but it isn’t inconsistent or incoherent with its storytelling either.

For fans looking for a live-action adaptation of the beloved Studio Ghibli film, they may be disappointed with the entirely different story and cast of characters. However, the essence of the original piece is still intact, and the locations and sets on which the film was shot in are just marvelous – enough to please those disappointed fans.

An entirely new experience for veteran fans, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a fun watch for all ages.


Watch this film…

…if you were a fan of the Studio Ghibli animation.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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