Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Great Movies : Flying Into Adolescence

By Alec Horowitz

Some films never leave. You might of left the movie theater or had that VHS collecting dust, but they stay with you. They stay in your heart, and soul. Some movies don’t need to have a political or very personal message that stays with you. Sometimes it’s just a story that does. One of those movies for me is ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, the 1989 picture by Japan’s master animator, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki makes cute films you can’t use the word cute to describe because cute wouldn’t do justice to them. Every time Kiki’s Delivery Service comes on the TV set, I stop what I am doing and sit down and prepare to join a little girl and her cat (voiced by comic legend Phil Hartman in the English dub) as they fly in the sky in the opening scenes away through the clouds. Every time I watch it, I can’t help but smile, and as then smile some more. I feel a lot of affection for Kiki through watching the film, because Kiki is more realistic a kid then most kids in American animation.

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ is a film where flying is a metaphor. We are all like Kiki, flying into different stages of our lives. Kiki flying to a place where she needs to feel accepted. She is flying into her adolescence years. “Without even thinking about it” says Kiki, “I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it”. There was a time we where all able to fly. We just felt right with the world and let our joys just fly. Isn’t it ironic, you can find yourself asking while watching the film, that when Kiki is finally let to go fly as she take her broom and head into the sky, that she will face her biggest problems. Did I mention that Kiki is thirteen years old? Flying on a bloom for Kiki is the fantasy version of a parent letting their tween stay out longer at night and eat at the local pizza shop.

Kiki is a skinny girl wearing a big red bow on her head and a skirt that blows up a bit too much. Her cat Jiji sitting nervously on the broom next to her like some nervous adult next to their teenager daughter in the car. The broom itself is a testament to the warmth and reliability of Miyazaki’s script based on the novel by Eiko Kadono, a Japanese author of children’s books. Miyazaki has gone to darker places in films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. What is so special about Kiki’s Delivery Service is the pure warmth it gives off. She drives her broom like a teenage girl through the road, often not going straight where the clouds are telling her she is supposed to even seeing a older witch and asking her questions like a freshman to a senior in high school. Its little details like that let Miyazaki’s work rise above mere fantasy. She ends up in a town where she rents a room for exchange of work being a delivery witch for a local bakery, which proudly has a little wooden witch symbol in their window.

‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ is a film about finding where you belong. On a deeper level, it can be augured that it’s even more important for witches to find their belonging then even us mortals. After all, Kiki’s mother was a witch who married a human. In an early scene in the film, Kiki’s mother sits with an older women, who at first we can assume is Kiki’s mother’s mom but it is never said in any piece of dialogue. We have the suggestion that this woman is actually a mother figure. Not biological but a gentle person who helped Kiki’s mother when she was a young witch herself. “All young people want to do something different,” she says. The older women starts to talk about how she remembers when Kiki’s mother showed up as a young girl on a broom, a confused young witch. Kiki runs exactly to the window where her mortal dad is preparing a camping trip and she proclaims she is leaving tonight because it’s a full moon. The full moon she refers to is truly meaning the dawn of adolescence.

Kiki’s parents aren’t portrayed as anything but loving in those opening scenes. Her friends not snotty, innocently asking her to say hi to the boys for them. The people she meets who hire her to deliver food don’t take advantage of her. It’s one of those rare films without a villain for the kids to jeer at. Instead everyone is warm, and wonderful. Every frame in a piece of art by Miyazaki, and this is on full display when Kiki has to put to the test of becoming a heroin as a bump starts to crash into the city and it’s up to Kiki to save the day. Flight is a very important element in this film. The flight serves as a metaphor in so many ways. A beautiful metaphor the film is for teenage years. Kiki’s love interest is a boy around her age, who wears glasses and looks like a pre Harry Potter, who is fascinated by Kiki, but not just because she’s a girl. He’s fascinated because he loves flight. Of course, her being a girl doesn’t hurt. Some of the most beautifully animated sequences in this picture are just this boy on his bike riding next to Kiki as she does a delivery. On the street, beautifully animated grass on the side.

What is it about Hayao Miyazaki? So many of his hero’s in his pictures are little girls. There are very few filmmakers who strike that balance between the innocence we love about the female gender and that willpower we want them to have. We love Kiki, because she’s a cute little girl. At the same time, we also want her to succeed and become strong as she enters her teenager years. We want her to save this boy who has a crush on her. We want him to be grateful to her. There’s such wonder in the beautifully animated world of Hayao Miyazki. There’s such pure joy and just pleasure in the colors and wonderful feelings one gets from spending time in his world. At the same time, there can also be said there is a feminist under text that lets us cheer on young female characters who act as the hero’s in his stories. Through his fantasy, there is so much said about love, acceptance and growing up.

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