Questioning "Kiki"

I just finished "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989) and I welcome any and all who would champion its wonders to share their enthusiasm. I must admit that I didn't find it nearly as interesting as Miyazaki's other films. The cat was wonderfully observed, and the flying scenes were vividly and vertiginously rendered (in part because of the very effective use of complete, unsettling silence in moments of panic and suspense), but other than that the story was rather inertly conventional, I thought. I watched the film with my mother (we are both huge Miyazaki fans - I believe that this was the last American-released, Miyazaki-directed film that I had yet to see), and we agreed that by far the best part of the film occurred during the credits, when a number of storylines are whimsically wrapped up (the film having ended rather abruptly AT its own climax).

Perhaps this strength results from the fact that the characters are largely silent under the surging credits music, giving Kiki less opportunity for volcanic giggling and playing to Miyazaki's incredible eye for gesture. My mother and I have long observed that dogs are consistently delightful in animated films (consider "Howl's Moving Castle," "The Triplets of Belleville," "Wallace and Gromit"), because their silence enhances the inherent expressiveness of their bodies, augmenting our desire to see pets as capable of human complexity of emotion. Miyazaki's best characters, including Kiki's cat Jiji, excel at this expressive economy of gesture. Perhaps the best examples come from "Spirited Away": the strange relationship between the sack creature and the tiny bird, or the incredibly human bouncing dust mites who care for Chihiro's shoes.

How disappointing it is in "Howl's Moving Castle" when the delightful Turnip-head, who has up till now expressed himself very well through a language confined to hopping, turns into a handsome prince and can talk. I long for the Miyazaki's fairy-tales to be arrested in the world of metamorphosis, never to return to mundane human forms. Perhaps this is the problem with "Kiki's Delivery Service": it exists too much in the human world, a world of business start-ups and money worries, a world that is basically normal except for the existence of people who can fly and talk to black cats (sometimes), and not enough in the world of metamorphosis, of myth, of gesture.

"Kiki's Delivery Service" - *** 1/2

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