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Hayao Miyazaki
Kiki's Delivery Service
Disney/Buena Vista

Kiki's Delivery Service
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Includes the voice talents of Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo, and Debbie Reynolds

After much talk and hype of Walt Disney's partial ownership of and distribution deal with the famed anime studio, Studio Ghibli, the bond between the companies has finally borne fruit with the American release of Kiki's Delivery Service. This charming, kid-friendly anime establishes acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki as a creator of family entertainment with some substantial worth for adults, and ushers in a new era of anime in America.

Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no takkyubin, 1989) is an adaptation of a beloved Japanese children's book, in which thirteen-year-old Kiki (voice of Kirsten Dunst) leaves her home as a rite of passage to her becoming a witch. However, her training in witchcraft has been fairly limited up until this point, and she still hasn't decided what to focus her interests and considerable energy on. When she touches down in a quaint Mediterranean town, she performs a good deed for a local bakery owner that results in Kiki finding a place to stay and a job to do during her year away from home. Instead of focusing on narrowing her focus, Kiki opens a flying delivery service over the bakery. Her new business endeavour brings many new adventures, but her decision to focus on running Kiki's Delivery Service leaves her with not enough knowledge to go on in her studies. She has a crisis of faith, but with some encouraging words from Ursla (voice of Janeane Garofalo) and the friendship of a neighborhood boy with a strong interest in flying, Kiki regains her confidence and ability and returns to her home village with a renewed interest in learning when her year abroad is up.

While the story is of a much lower key than Miyazaki's other output, which includes the post-apocalyptic ecological tales Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika, 1984) and this summer's Mononoke Hime (1997), the tale touches on some important themes for children and adults alike, such as having belief in your vision and not being afraid of bringing it to life. However, both the intended audience and their grown-up friends and family will be able to appreciate the straight-talking narrative and the way the filmmakers don't condescend to their patrons, a la Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Particularly wonderful is the story arc involving Ursla the artist, which seems in many ways to offer a kids'-eye-view of the lessons of art and imagination that author Jeanette Winterson puts forth in her manifesto, Art [Objects]. As voiced by the wondrous comedienne Janeane Garofalo, Ursla is smart, straight-talking, and (of course) blessed with a tremendous sense of humour that helps Kiki see her way through the darkness.

Even in a format such as video, where majestic, wide-screen films like Kiki's Delivery Service are squashed and panned-and-scannned, Miyazaki's visionary animation shines as the film's true star. His attention to detail astounds the eye, and his way of filming wind and its affect on grass and water is so realistic that viewers can practically feel the tickle of the breeze against their skin. Similarly, visual inside jokes about pertaining to Studio Ghibli abound; careful viewers might notice a bus with the words "Studio Ghibli" and an illustration of Miyazaki's most famous kiddie icon, the Totoro, on a passing bus, or spot the animator's self-portrait in a room full of crazed reporter's at the movie's thrilling climax.

All in all, Kiki's Delivery Service is a wonderful film for audiences of all ages, one that will inspire kids and adults alike. Buy it. Watch it over and over again. Live it. And by all means, keep an eye out for Ghibli's other films that will be coming out in English before the dawn of the next millennium, the epic Mononoke Hime, and the fairy-tale Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenku no shiro Rapyuta, 1986).

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