Sep 8, 2019
Optigisa (All reviews)
Studio Ghibli movies have always been known for being creative, visionary and imaginative, filled with so much care and heart poured into them, to the point where they become distinguishable from the medium as a whole. For several years, Miyazaki and his buddy Takahata have devoted many hours of their days to making the best of the best when it came to animated features. For Takahata, some may say that his masterpiece when it came to movies was Grave of the Fireflies, others may say that his true masterpiece was Only Yesterday. Regardless of what Takahata’s true masterpiece is, both he and Miyazaki have produced many movies that have been hailed as masterpieces by many over the years, but what is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece? What is his magnum opus? Many will immediately point out to the award winning, beautifully animated 2001 movie, Spirited Away. Others will point out to his famous 1997 movie, Princess Mononoke. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what Miyazaki’s masterpiece truly is, since everyone has their own subjective opinions, and picking out the best of the best when it comes to Miyazaki is a hard chore to accomplish, especially considering all of the quality movies he’s put out during his career. Regardless of subjective opinions and differences between Ghibli fans, today we take a look at Miyazaki’s most underrated gem, his overshadowed masterpiece - Kiki’s Delivery Service. A movie that is so beautifully directed and animated, and has been undeservingly overshadowed by many other Ghibli titles that have come out since this movie’s debut.

Kiki's Delivery Service is one of the very few Ghibli movies that would make a viewer cry. Spirited Away would come close, but it wouldn’t quite hit the mark with what it offers, and wouldn’t emotionally resonate with some viewers. Kiki’s true beauty, however, lies in the fact that it is a simple movie, and any person would have come up with both the plot and the ending, but it takes a lot of care and brilliant directing to make a plot so simple shine in such a prepossessing manner. Miyazaki took a simple concept that is magic and witches flying through the air, and turned it into a film that emotionally resonates with most of those who have seen it. The plot follows Kiki, a young witch who wants to find her place in the world, and this is where the narrative truly stands out from the rest of both the other Ghibli movies, and the other witch fairytales. Kiki’s Delivery Service may seem like a witch story on the surface, but as you delve deeper into it, it begins to show itself as a movie exploring the hardships of life and a masterfully crafted coming of age story as well. The titular character is one of the most relatable to ever come out of the Ghibli discography, and is the most explored heroine in Ghibli’s catalog as well.

The central character Kiki, is relatable due to the fact that her relationship with her companions is explored thoroughly, from her relationship with her black cat Gigi, to her relationship with the young boy Tombo, to her relationship with the bakery owner, and so on and so forth. Not only are the character interactions believable and thoroughly explored, but so is the fact that Kiki exhibits human behavior unlike any other Ghibli character. When I say “human” I do not mean in the sense that it is forced like some of the other Ghibli characters, as her depression and lack of self-worth arise slowly after losing something that is deep to her, which makes her character all the more believable. It doesn’t come across as something that is shallow for the sake of gaining some sympathy and tears from the audience, since the thing she lost is something which she had owned her whole life, not something cheap which came out of nowhere and then vanished that easily to garner sympathy and tears from the viewers. This is one of the very few times where Miyazaki would go into such hard topics when it came to his characters. Usually, Miyazaki’s characters are mostly joyful and cheerful, whereas Takahata’s characters are the ones to exhibit such genuine lack of emotions and self-worth, which is another factor as to why this movie stands out as something that is both unique and exceptional in Miyazaki’s discography.

As for the other characters, they aren’t as well explored as Kiki, but they serve their purpose well within the narrative regardless. Kiki’s black cat, Gigi, isn’t the typical black cat that a witch would carry around, he talks, and his attempts at humor land solidly. When something devastating happens to him, the audience relates with him and to his struggles. To be able to make the audience feel attached to a character that isn’t as deeply explored as a well-developed protagonist like Kiki, is a feat that should not be underestimated, but Miyazaki did it brilliantly this time around. As for the bakery owner, she serves to guide Kiki through her emotional struggles and as a maternal figure to Kiki as well, since Kiki is a character that was forced to depart from her parents as a part of undergoing a witch training program. The contrast between the owner’s kindness and Kiki’s depression makes the emotional catharsis all the more immense here, and makes Kiki even more relatable as a character. Kiki is also not a perfect character at the end of the day, which makes her all the more relatable to the audience, especially those who struggle with hardships. Yes, she may be a witch and she may have special powers, but she isn’t a princess nor a hero prophesied in legends like most other Ghibli heroines. Kiki is clumsy, acts haphazardly at most times, especially with her terrible ability when it comes to landing her broom, and she tries to better herself and develop throughout the movie’s run.

As underrated as this gorgeous movie’s characters and direction are, the most underrated aspects of it are the animation and the visuals. People do not give enough credit to this movie’s audiovisuals, as it boggles the mind how a movie that is thirty years old, can have such animation that has not aged in the least bit. It is also nice to see Ghibli upping their game with this one, as the animation progressed from stills and flappy animation back in 1986 with Castle in the Sky, to some of the most fluid animation found in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Whether it’s the beautiful hand drawn animations, or the picturesque landscapes, Ghibli never ceases to amaze with this one. The backgrounds serve the story better and make the atmosphere all the more engaging, especially with the places they chose. The colors are vibrant and give the movie more life, and become pale and lifeless when the movie needs to be serious and grim. As for the character designs, Kiki is by far the most visually striking Ghibli protagonist, her most appealing feature being her tie that she wears on her head. Her dress is only one cloth, but it’s a nice change from the ridiculous clothes many other Ghibli characters wear, and it adds more to her humble character.

As for the soundtrack, this is Joe Hisaishi’s best work. The soundtrack immensely captures the beauty of the film and the general atmosphere that it was striving to achieve. The best piece Ghibli has ever put out is “A Town with an Ocean View”, as it is immensely visceral and awe inspiring, and it beats out Spirited Away’s main theme, “The Name of Life”. The other pieces helped solidify the scenes that they were placed in as well. All around this soundtrack is Hisaishi’s most emotionally striking soundtrack, even when some may argue that it isn’t his absolute best.

This is Miyazaki’s masterpiece. After seeing most of what Ghibli had to offer - from the bad, to the nauseatingly slow average, to the very good, I can assure readers that this is Miyazaki’s crème de la crème. This movie contends heavily with some others that Takahata has put out, and uncertainty always arises when trying to make sure what Ghibli’s absolute magnum opus is. Regardless of that, this is Miyazaki’s visceral masterpiece, without a shadow of a doubt.