Grant Paulsen’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I'm trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.”
Studio Ghibli is the best animation studio out there. I’ve finally decided to start going through their library, with Spirited Away (2001) having been the only film of theirs that I had seen before now. And they just keep on delivering hit after hit every time. I don’t think any animation studio has this many masterpieces under their belt.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) is an immensely resonant masterpiece that embodies expert craftsmanship, masterful visual storytelling, and great writing. This has to be one of the best slice of life dramas I have ever seen. And Kiki is one of the most relatable characters to me. Her story is so immensely relatable to my life that I couldn’t believe it. This really felt like a film that was literally made for me. I feel like I’ve been waiting to see a film like this all my life.
What I’ve loved about Hayao Miyazaki's films is that they are constantly booming with creativity and imagination, while also integrating nuanced themes about life. Every single one of his films that I’ve seen so far has had such a unique and purposeful vision. He also integrates his own critique on authoritarianism, militarism, and racism in some small or large part in each of his films that I’ve seen. It’s so satisfying to see subtlety like this in a G-rated kids film. It’s movies like this that absolutely destroy the argument that adults make when they say you can’t criticize kids films because they’re kids films. Filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki are the ones who say, no. Kids films can be exceptional.
This film is also a great inspiration for kids on how their skills can be used to such great effects and for a good cause. And on top of that this film just has all of the things that make Miyazaki’s films great. Absolutely gorgeous animation, excellent pacing, and perfect world building. I think objectively speaking, Spirited Away (2001) is definitely the better film, but I think that Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) absolutely nails the coming of age story even more so than Spirited Away (2001) did, and I don’t think that’s just because of how relatable this film was to my life. Because Kiki’s arc is just so beautifully written, it works so well independently of how much you relate to her. Which is perfect because it avoids the relatability trap that a lot of coming of age stories and slice of life dramas fall into.
I noticed that Kiki’s story in this film of dealing with anxiety, depression, and insecurities due to her quick realization that the world does not love her, is basically a better version of what was explored in Whisper of the Heart (1995). I love how instead of telling the story of how she finds her special ability, she slowly loses the one she found in the beginning due to her slowly losing her innocence and becoming more depressed over the course of the film as she has to take on the weight of life more and more with each passing scene. Her powers start to fail her when she deals with the mindset of constantly worrying about what others think of her, fulfilling all of her responsibilities, and being anxious about who she is. And she’s confused by this because with making things more complicated, she can’t remember how she used to fly so easily. But, she learns that self-confidence comes from putting others before herself rather than from satisfying her own personal goals and pleasing herself. And this just goes to show you how Hayao Miyazaki is a master of visual storytelling, because everything I just explained was communicated visually, rather than through dialogue. And it shows how good writing can get you so much nuance and depth from a character.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) is an exceptional film that shows the beauty of what can happen when humans use their power for good. And it’s personified even more perfectly with Miyazaki utilizing the character arc of a witch to communicate this theme. When witches are typically thought of in narrative storytelling as magical creatures who intentionally harm others. Hayao Miyazaki is absolutely brilliant. Studio Ghibli is better than any studio making kids movies today.
Truly poetic cinema. Kino at its finest.