I too was quite surprised when I found out that this film was in production. I was even more surprised with the director that was making the film: Japanese master of horror Takashi Shimizu. So let’s get one thing straight right away (even though you probably already noticed): this is no horror film. If you are even only a little bit familiar with Japanese cinema, chances are that you know about Anime; Japanese animation that has taken the world by storm in the last few decades. If you know anything about Anime, you have probably heard of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki and his timeless masterpieces he created for Studio Ghibli. In 1989, Miyazaki released Majo no Takkyūbin, internationally known as Kiki’s Delivery Service.
While Miyazaki wrote his own film’s script, his film is actually based on a novel written by Eiko Kadono, which was published in 1985. The film I am reviewing here is also based on that same novel, but was also clearly inspired by Miyazaki’s classic. Therefor it is almost impossible not to compare the two films with one another, even though this live-action version is, and feels, even though naturally sometimes similar, a bit different from Miyazaki’s work.
First of all, let’s have a look at the story. Kiki, daughter of a witch and a normal man, turns 13 years old, the age that a witch has to leave her home and live by herself for one full year. Together with her talking black cat Jiji she flies out to arrive at a small coastal town. Since flying is the only witch power she possesses, she decides to start a delivery service. But naturally this isn’t without its challenges…
I haven’t read the novel, so I have no idea how much of the situations that happen in the novel made it in the film, but director Shimizu has used some different situations and challenges for Kiki to overcome if we compare the film to Miyazaki’s outing. For example, Kiki has to deal with acceptance, as not everyone in the village is particularly fond of witches, an element which wasn’t that much present in the animation version of the story. The film’s finale is also totally different from the animated classic, which gives the film its original twists and turns even for fans who have seen and know the 1989 version by heart. Some story elements are better than the other and some subplots could have been left out, but one can see that it is all put in there with good intentions.
Kiki is portrayed by actress Fūka Koshiba. I have to admit that in the beginning I had to get used to her and her way of portraying Kiki, but eventually I agree she was the right choice. I read some critics saying Koshiba was a too mature choice to play the 13 year old witch, but I don’t think that really matters. Koshiba brings Kiki to live in her own way and I actually prefer that they chose a slightly older girl, since she can handle the emotional scenes well. If you are used to the Kiki of the animation you might feel Koshiba sometimes plays Kiki with a certain colder edge to it, but she does make it work. I do not agree that it is a charmless performance as I have heard some say, but I can understand that the above-mentioned colder, and arguably more mature, edge that Koshiba brings to the role won’t please everyone.
Having directed many popular Horror films like countless entries in the Ju-on saga ( aka The Grudge), filmmaker Takashi Shimizu decided to bring a more family friendly and warmer film to life. I guess he felt it was time for a change and entertain audiences in a different way. The film has its charm and compared to Miyazaki, who made Kiki’s world more European in its look and scenery, Shimizu kept the film’s look and atmosphere closer to home. The village is clearly more Japanese based than European, giving the story its own feel. Visually the film is warm and colorful, and the visual effects aren’t bad. Kiki flies and spins nicely through the air and her talking cat Jiji (voiced by Minako Kotobuki) is brought to live with a nice mix of realistic and cartoony visuals that succeed in doing its job of bringing the character to life.
All in all, this adaptation of Kadono’s classic story is an entertaining outing of the young witch’ first adventure away from home. Miyazaki’s outing is arguably still the better film, but Shimizu’s version definitely also has its own charm.