Saturday 21 May 2016

Outstanding returns: "Kiki's Delivery Service"

Kiki's Delivery Service, Hayao Miyazaki's animated parable of adolescent self-sufficiency from 1989, surely occupies the same cultural position in the East as The Worst Witch and Harry Potter do in the West. Reissued to UK cinemas this week as part of StudioCanal's summer Studio Ghibli season, this is the tale of 13-year-old witch Kiki, who leaves home - as all 13-year-old witches must - and heads for the big city, where she's taken in by a bakery and launches her own courier operation, the broomstick coming in especially handy. But what's a girl to do once her powers wear off? Once again, Miyazaki arrives at a story that could have been told by a parent improvising at bedtime, while managing, without the merest trace of condescension, to preach the virtues of hard work, due diligence, close care and attention; he makes sly points about the callousness of the privileged folk young Kiki bumps up against, and how obstructive other people can be when you're trying to get a job done. 

The artistry is, as almost always with Ghibli, of the highest calibre: if Kiki is drawn in the now-recognisable Japanese style, the cityscapes she passes through are European in their gabled townhouses and cobbled streets, while the character detailing is exceptional. I don't quite know how it's possible for animators in this nervy day and age to observe children this closely (beyond, you know, having kids of their own), but this lot clearly have: witness the changing look on the face of the young boy our heroine's cat Jiji is delivered to as his parents shout for him to stop watching television and get changed, or the slumping posture Kiki adopts while bored on a slow afternoon in the baker's shop. Drifting in on an air of pine trees and freshly baked loaves, populated by the kindest of creatures, and set to another of Joe Hisaishi's charmingly simple, almost nursery rhyme-like scores, this really is a lovely world to spend some time within.

Kiki's Delivery Service opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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