Monday, July 27, 2009

Why I Love Animation: Kiki's Delivery Service - Part Two

Kiki has found a place to live in her new town and figured out how she will use her witch's powers to support herself. Now she has accepted her first job: delivering a toy cat to a young boy for his birthday. It's her first chance to prove herself as a reliable resident witch, so she is eager to do a good job.

It doesn’t take long for Kiki to run into trouble. She once again finds herself at nature’s mercy when a strong wind blows her off course and into a tree where some very territorial crows have made their nests. Kiki and Jiji escape unscathed, but soon discover that they toy cat fell out of the birdcage during the scuffle. The crows are still far too upset for Kiki to fly down and search for the missing toy. But Kiki promised that the toy would be delivered by tonight. It is her first job and doesn’t want to disappoint her customer. So Kiki comes up with a plan that will by her some time to search the forest on foot without being late with her delivery.

Jiji will pose as the toy cat until Kiki can find the toy and come back to rescue Jiji. It’s no surprise that Jiji does not like this plan. But his loyalty to Kiki wins out and he remains statue still as Kiki makes her delivery, even when the birthday boy starts carrying him around by his tail.

Kiki searches the forest for the toy and finally discovers it in the window of a small cabin. Though no one seems to be home at first, the easel, brushes, and tubes of paint Kiki discovers inside make it clear that this is the home of an artist. The artist in question is up on the roof sketching some of the crows that attacked Kiki before. Her name isn’t mentioned in the subtitles, but she’s called Ursula in the dub. Ursula ignores Kiki’s urgency at first, lost in her work. But once Kiki explains her predicament (offscreen), she is willing to help. I’m not entirely sure why Ursula mentions that she has grown fond of the toy cat, since she can’t have found it more than a few hours ago. When she hands it over, Kiki discovers that they toy’s neck has torn. Ursula agrees to repair the toy in exchange for Kiki helping out with some housework. As both of them get to work, they chat about Kiki’s year away from home, though Kiki remains worried about getting back to Jiji.

Back at the house, the birthday boy has lost interest in his new “toy,” but Jiji’s troubles are not over. Jeff, the family’s large, elderly dog, is aware that Jiji is not what he appears to be. As Jeff begins to take an interest in him, Jiji breaks out in a sweat, not the conventional anime single sweat bead, but numerous droplets all over his body.

Though he isn’t strictly comic relief, Jiji is the most cartoonish character in the film. While most of the other animals are rendered realistically, Jiji has a large round head, big eyes, and a range of expressions and reactions that beyond those of a real cat. He is Kiki’s friend and confidant first, cat second. Jeff, in contrast, looks like a real dog at all times. His face is devoid of expression. Because he is an old dog, his movements are slow and deliberate and his body language consists of wagging his tail once.

Fortunately for Jiji, Jeff does nothing worse than lick him and curl up around him protectively. While the family laughs over dinner about how much Jeff seems to love the “toy” cat, Jeff sniffs at the air, possibly realizing that Kiki is outside. He scratches at the door and takes Jiji out with him, reuniting him with Kiki. Jiji explains how Jeff helped him out and Kiki hands Jeff the toy to bring back inside in place of Jiji. Jeff returns to the house and shuts the door behind him, leaving Kiki and Jiji free to go home.

While they’re flying, Kiki mentions that Ursula wants her to model for a drawing. Though he is hungry and tired, Jiji can’t resist making a joke at Kiki’s expense after what she has put him through and asks if she will be posing in the nude, one of the reasons why I think his voice in the dub is clearly that of an adult male. Kiki is mortified and Jiji grins with satisfaction.

Though Kiki doesn’t know it yet, she has more new friends watching out for her than just Osono. Osono’s husband, who is never named in either the subtitles or the dub, has already been introduced as a strong, skilled baker who hardly ever says a word. Both Kiki and Jiji seem a little shy around him. Regardless, he is pacing in the shop window, waiting for Kiki to return. Hanging in the window is a beautiful new sign that appears to be sculpted out of dough, advertising Kiki’s new delivery service. Once he sees Kiki approaching, Osono’s husband runs off to the back room, suggesting that perhaps he is shyer around Kiki than she is with him. Kiki and Jiji land in front of the bakery and are delighted by the new sign. Kiki rushes inside and though there is no dialogue, it is clear that she is asking Osono about the sign. Osono’s husband returns to the front room and is flustered as Kiki thanks him with an enthusiastic hug, much to Osono’s amusement.

Sometime later, Kiki is minding the bakery. She complains to Jiji that she hasn’t been getting any customers lately, but her dry spell ends when she gets a call to come and pick up a delivery that afternoon. As she finishes taking down the details, Tombo walks in. Kiki is as cold to him as ever, but Tombo still isn’t put off. He hands her an invitation – addressed to “Miss Witch” – to a party being held at his aviation club that night. But he turns the tables, telling her he’ll be by to pick her up at six and leaving before she can refuse.

Kiki runs to Osono for advice. But surprisingly, her concern isn’t how she can get out of going to the party, but what she will wear. Osono assures her that her black dress makes her look beautiful and mysterious. Though Osono is Kiki’s surrogate mother, she is also impartial enough to be able to tell Kiki she looks lovely in her regular black dress and have Kiki believe it. It is Jiji who ends up asking why Kiki wants to go to Tombo’s party when she seems to hate him. But Kiki dodges the question by saying she can’t talk while flying with the heavy package in tow. It is not clear whether Kiki is just looking forward to the chance to have some fun and take a break from her work or if Tombo’s persistence is finally paying off.

Kiki drags the heavy package up several flights of stairs to it destination, then flies off to pick up her next delivery. The lady of the house’s maid, Bertha, answers the door. (The dub interprets the Japanese pronunciation of her name as “Barsa.”) Bertha is fascinated at having a real live witch in the house and even gives Kiki’s broom a try when she thinks no one’s looking. Bertha brings Kiki to the elderly lady of the house. (Neither the subtitles or the dub ever call her anything more specific than “Madam.”) The lady apologizes to Kiki; the delivery she wanted to Kiki to take to her granddaughter’s birthday party isn’t ready. Her electric oven won’t heat up, so she hasn’t been able to bake her special herring and pumpkin pie. (It may not sound appetizing, but like all the food in the film, it looks delicious.) Nonetheless, the lady insists on paying Kiki in full. But Kiki’s honest nature won’t let her accept payment for nothing. She offers help get the lady’s old wood burning over running so they can bake the pie. Jiji warns her that she will be late for the aviation club party, but Kiki is certain she will have enough time. She is familiar with the old fashioned over from her country upbringing and soon has the fire going and the pie baking. While they wait on the pie, Kiki helps out around the house and enjoys some tea with the lady. Realizing that it is getting late, the lady asks when Kiki’s party starts. Kiki tell her it begins at six, but that she has plenty of time to drop off the pie and get home before then. But Kiki has overestimated how much time she has, as the lady points out that the old clock in her house always runs ten minutes slow. The lady and Bertha rush to get the pie from the oven and send Kiki on her way.

Once again, the elements prove an obstacle for Kiki. A sudden rainstorm pours down on her as she flies. Jiji begs her to land and get out of the rain, but Kiki presses on. It’s not just that she’s worried about being late for her party; the pie will get cold if they stop to wait out the rain and Kiki isn’t going to let that happen after all the hard work she and the lady put into getting it ready. She arrives at her destination just as the clock is striking six, thoroughly soaked. The lady’s granddaughter opens the door and is dismayed to find Kiki there. The bratty girl complains that the delivery is soaking wet, despite Kiki’s best efforts to keep it dry and warm. When she discovered what her gift is, she is disappointed and totally unappreciative. “I hate Grandma’s stupid pies,” she scowls as she signs the receipt and shuts the door in Kiki’s face. Jiji can’t believe that the sweet old lady they met before could possibly be related to this rude, spoiled girl. Stunned, Kiki flies home in silence.

Meanwhile, a very well dressed Tombo has been waiting for Kiki at the bakery since before six. He finally decides that she isn’t coming and heads off to his party alone. Kiki returns just as he is leaving and Jiji points him out, telling her that she could still make it to the party. But she ignores him. She tells Osono later that it’s because she can’t go in her wet clothes. But a soaking dress isn’t really what Kiki is so upset about. Kiki worked hard and risked the party that she had been looking forward to so that she could deliver a birthday present, only to have all of her sacrifices go unappreciated by the recipient of the gift. Not only that, the lady who was so kind to Kiki and who used her talents to make the pie for her granddaughter had her gift cruelly rejected. The idea that she gave up her chance to go to Tombo’s party for nothing is just too much for Kiki to bear. She skips supper and crawls into bed, completely miserable.

The following morning, Osono goes to check on Kiki, only to find Jiji frantically scratching at the locked window to the attic room. Flying through the storm the night before has left Kiki with a bad cold. Between her misery and just being a teenager, Kiki has very little perspective on her situation and actually asks Osono if the illness is fatal, a question that Osono easily laughs off. While she tends to Kiki , Osono tells her that Tombo stopped by again and asked to come and visit once he heard she was sick. Kiki is horrified by the idea. Osono had guessed that she would be and politely declined the offer. As Osono leaves to let Kiki get some rest, Kiki starts to say something to her, perhaps to tell her the real story of last night’s ordeal, but decides against it.

The next day finds Kiki feeling much better. Osono hires Kiki to make a delivery to someone with the last name “Koppori” and insists on paying for it, even though Kiki protests that it’s an easy walk from the bakery. Osono does cryptically stipulate that Kiki must make the delivery in person.

Now that Kiki is feeling better, Jiji is free to roam around and runs into Lily, the fluffy white cat who snubbed him on his first day in town. She has evidently decided that Jiji is not so bad and Jiji is intrigued. By then time Kiki is ready to leave on her delivery, Jiji and Lily are getting to know one another. Kiki tells Jiji she can handle this delivery alone and leaves him to spend time with his new friend.

Kiki’s search for the Koppori residence takes her down by the ocean. It is a beautiful day and just being close to the shore puts Kiki in a good mood. While she admires the scenery, Tombo pops up at the top of a nearby wall. When Kiki nervously explains that she is looking for the Koppori home, Tombo reveals that “Koppori” is his family name. He heads down to meet Kiki as she realizes that Osono set her up.

For once, Kiki is in a position where she cannot simply reject Tombo. She has a delivery to make and she does feel bad – or at least embarrassed – about standing him up the night of the party. This causes Kiki to let her guard down, which gives her a chance to discover that Tombo is actually a nice guy. He isn’t at all angry that Kiki never showed up for the party. Instead, he invites her to his house where he proudly shows off his pride and joy: a bicycle with a propeller mounted on the front which will act as the engine of the man-powered plane that Tombo and his friends have been working on. He offers to take Kiki for a ride down to the beach where the “Freedom Adventurer” dirigible made a forced landing after being caught in the same storm that Kiki was. Kiki nervously admits that she has never been on a bicycle before, understandable since she can fly. Tombo thinks this being her first ride will be “even better.” He talks her through bracing the bike with her foot while he pedals to get the propeller started and leaning into the turns once they’re underway. He is always positive and encouraging and Kiki starts to realize that her first impressions of Tombo may have been wrong.

The bike ride comes to a bumpy end as the bike lifts into the air, sails over one car, nearly collides with another, loses its propeller, and crashes along the grassy hillside leading to the beach, throwing both Kiki and Tombo off. Kiki goes to make sure Tombo is all right, then starts laughing uproariously at his dirt-streaked face. Tombo maintains his good humor and merely asks “Does my face really look that funny?” Still laughing, Kiki apologizes and admits that she’s laughing partly out of relief that both of them are unhurt. Tombo agrees that the whole ordeal ended up being pretty scary and laughs along with Kiki.

Having survived their adventure, Kiki and Tombo sit down by the beach, watching the sea and the grounded blimp. Tombo finally gets his chance to talk to Kiki about flying and Kiki starts to discover that Tombo sees her not as a curiosity, but as an interesting person with an ability he sincerely wishes he possessed. Kiki opens up to him further, revealing that flying has been feeling like less of a joy and more of a job to her lately. It was fun when she could just go wherever she wanted at her own pace. Nut now flying is work, with places to be and deadlines to meet. It forces Kiki to meet certain goals and she is starting to lose confidence in herself. In spite of this, she tells Tombo she feels a lot better sitting by the ocean and that she is glad she came. Tombo quickly offers to take Kiki to the beach whenever she wants to go and she actually tells him that he is “a very nice person,” though she adds that she used to think he was “some sort of clown.” Tombo tells Kiki that his mother says the same thing about him and breaks into an imitation of his mother yelling at him to quit daydreaming and get back to his studies. Unlike Tombo’s comparing Kiki to his grandmother when they first met, this comment is more of a joke about his mother and an admission that Kiki is not the first person to see Tombo as a clown. The two of them laugh and it seems that they have become friends at last.

Just then, some of Tombo’s friends drive up in their same beat-up old car. Among them are two of the girls who Kiki passed by on her way to go shopping and the elderly woman’s bratty granddaughter. They call out to Tombo and tell him that they have some great news: they have been offered a tour of the dirigible and Tombo is invited. Almost as soon as Tombo’s friends show up, Kiki’s good mood evaporates. She has just worked up to interacting with Tombo one-on-one, but Kiki isn’t ready to just hang out with his friends. It isn’t that they are rude to her. Even the lady’s granddaughter merely tells her friends that she recognizes Kiki as the girl with the delivery service and the other girls are impressed to learn that Kiki is working at such a young age. But Kiki still feels like an outsider and can’t shake the idea that everyone is staring at her for all the wrong reasons. She declines Tombo’s offer to join them for the tour and walks home. Back at her room, she collapses on the bed and tells Jiji that she thinks something is wrong with her. Even she doesn’t completely understand why she feels so uncomfortable around people her age. This particular problem seems to have less to do with Kiki being a witch and more to do with Kiki being thirteen.

Strangely, Jiji only meows at Kiki to get her attention and runs off to be with Lily after Kiki finishes telling him her troubles. It seems inconsiderate of him and when he arrives late for dinner that evening Kiki snaps that he can’t show up late for every meal just to spend time with his new girlfriend. Jiji only meows in response and does so again when Kiki asks him why he is “talking like a cat.” Jiji grabs a piece of sausage and heads out the window. Personally, I kind of wonder if Jiji’s earlier departure was not about him rudely ignoring Kiki to spend more time with Lily, but a realization on Jiji’s part that his conversations with Kiki are becoming frighteningly one-sided. Whether Jiji knows what is going on or not, it is at this point that Kiki starts to realize that she cannot understand what he is saying. A terrible thought suddenly occurs to her. She grabs her broom and climbs on. The broom rises a few feet off the floor, only to crash back down a moment later. Kiki tries again with the same results. Becoming frantic, she goes outside to a grassy slope and tries with a running start, but only succeeds in falling and breaking her broom in half. There is no denying the truth: Kiki is losing her powers.

To be concluded....

All images from this article are copyright Eiko Kandono, Nibariki, Tokuma Shoten, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment Inc.

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