is the fifth Studio Ghibli anime film, produced, written, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 1989. It was the fourth theatrically released film from the studio, and was also the second feature film that Miyazaki directed but did not originally write himself. The movie won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1989. The movie is based on Eiko Kadono's novel of the same name, which is the first in a series originally published by Fukuinkan Shoten in 1985. The film adaptation includes only some of the episodes in the book; it ends at the end of summer while the book covers an entire calendar year. The movie depicts the gulf that exists between independence and self-reliance in the hopes and spirit of ordinary Japanese teenage girls.
It was the first Studio Ghibli movie released under the Disney/Studio Ghibli partnership; Disney recorded an English dub in 1997, which premiered in the United States at the Seattle International Film Festival May 23, 1998. It was released on home video in the U.S. on September 1, 1998.
Soon after leaving, Kiki asks Jiji to turn on the radio. He flips to a lively pop song and the beginning credits roll. After the credits and song finish, Kiki and Jiji meet another witch on her way back home from training. After giving some advice about inner skills, this newcomer flies down yelling, "Ciao!" Seconds after she leaves, Kiki and Jiji are caught in a thunderstorm, from which they take overnight refuge in a train. On the next morning, Kiki and Jiji wake up to discover that they have fallen asleep in the feed bag of a herd of cows. They leave the train and continue their search for a place to live.
Kiki settles in the beautiful seaside city of Koriko, and, after initially finding it difficult to adjust to the city's pace of life, starts a delivery service that takes advantage of her ability to fly. Kiki experiences several setbacks, such as slow business, misplaced merchandise, rude customers, and illness. She also must contend with her loneliness, worries, and homesickness.
Having caught the eye of Tombo, a local boy about her age who has an interest in aviation and in Kiki herself, she at first rebuffs then befriends him. Jiji simultaneously courts a local cat named Lily, who had earlier snubbed him.
Because of her insecurity, Kiki's powers diminish and ultimately disappear, to her great shame and terror. Kiki learns about overcoming such obstacles with the help of a newfound friend, a young artist named Ursula, who gives Kiki advice regarding inspiration that she needs in order to regain her magical abilities.
In a moment of deadly crisis, Tombo is accidentally lifted into the air in a dirigible accident. When she is his only hope of rescue, Kiki finds the inspiration to regain her flying ability. Improvising with a street-sweeper's push broom, Kiki manages to rescue Tombo with considerable difficulty. At that adventure's conclusion, Jiji joins her again, but still cannot speak and Kiki gracefully accepts that as a price of growing up. Suddenly famous, she sends home a simple, modest letter to her parents, saying that she is becoming used to her new home and that things are working out well for her.
The story continues through the end titles, as she flies a high-guard formation with Tombo as he flies his human-powered aircraft in a flight sequence obviously inspired by the Gossamer Albatross. Later, she is on the street of her town and notices a little girl walking past, because the little girl has her hair and clothing styled like Kiki's and is even carrying a small deck broom like the one Kiki flew to save Tombo - an indication of her having become a local celebrity. Jiji and Lily are also shown, with several kittens in tow.
Miyazaki took up the role as producer of the film while the position of director was still unfilled. During the start of the project and the nearing of Totoro's completion, members of Studio Ghibli were being recruited for senior staff for the Kiki’s Delivery Service project. The character design position was given to Katsuya Kondo, who was currently working with Miyazaki on Totoro. Hiroshi Ohno, who would later work on projects such as Jon-Roh, was hired as art director, partly because he was requested by Kazuo Oga, who was part of Miyazaki's Totoro team as well.
Although many positions had been filled, the project still lacked a director. Miyazaki, busy with Totoro, looked at many directors himself, but found none he thought fit to articulate the project. Ghibli hired an anonymous screenwriter, but Miyazaki was disappointed by the first draft, finding it dry and too divergent from his own vision of the film. Studio Ghibli rejected this draft of the screenplay after Miyazaki voiced his disapproval.
Finally, when Totoro was finished and released, Miyazaki began to look more closely at Kiki’s Delivery Service. He started by writing a screenplay himself, and since Majo no Takkyūbin was based in a fictional country in northern Europe, he and the senior staff went to research landscapes and other elements of the setting. Their main stops were Stockholm, Adelaide, South Australia and the Swedish island of Gotland. The city's architecture also owes debts to Ireland, Paris and Tokyo's Ginza district. The time setting for Kiki's Delivery Service was a subject for discussion among the movie's fans for some time: Kiki carries a transistor radio apparently of 1950s vintage, and some characters are seen watching black-and-white television sets, but the cars and some of the aircraft seem to be from an earlier period. Specifically, a plane resembling the Handley Page H.P.42 is seen during the opening credits, although all eight of the H.P.42 aircraft had been decommissioned or destroyed by 1941. The controversy was settled when Miyazaki said the story took place in the 1950s of an alternative universe in which World War II never took place.
Upon their return to Japan, Miyazaki and the creative team worked on conceptual art and character designs. Miyazaki began significantly modifying the story, creating new ideas and changing existing ones. Majo no Takkyūbin, the original children's book by Eiko Kadono that the movie was based on, is very different from Miyazaki's finished film. Kadono's novel is more episodic, consisting of small stories about various people and incidents Kiki encounters while making deliveries. Many of the more dramatic elements, such as Kiki losing her powers or the blimp incident at the film's climax, were not present in the original story. Miyazaki made these changes to give the film more of a story, and make the film about the hardships that Kiki faces while growing up; he remarked, "As movies always create a more realistic feeling, Kiki will suffer stronger setbacks and loneliness than in the original".
As a result, Kadono was unhappy with the changes that were made between the book and film, to the point that the project was in danger of being shelved at the screenplay stage. Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, the producer of Ghibli, went to the author's home and invited her to the film's studio. After her visit to the studio, Kadono decided to let the project continue. Miyazaki finished the rough draft of the screenplay on June 18, 1988, and then presented it on July 8, 1988. It was at this time that Miyazaki revealed that he had decided to direct the film, because he had influenced the project so much.
The word takkyūbin (宅急便, literally home-fast-mail) in the Japanese title is a trademark of Yamato Transport, though it is used today as a synonym for takuhaibin (宅配便, literally home-delivery-mail). The company not only approved the use of its trademark — though its permission was not required under Japanese trademark laws — but also enthusiastically sponsored the film, as the company uses a stylized depiction of a black mother cat carrying her kitten as its corporate logo.
Kiki's Delivery Service was originally intended to be a 60-minute special, but expanded into a feature film running 102 minutes after Miyazaki completed storyboarding and scripting it.
Kirsten Dunst voiced Kiki in the 1998 English dub. The English dub was also Phil Hartman's last voice-acting performance (as Jiji) before his death. There is a tribute to Phil Hartman after the credits of the English dub, dedicating the film to his memory. The dub received mixed reviews—although it was mostly showered with praise, other critics and fans jumped on it for its minor alterations. Despite this, the dub has proven popular, selling over one million copies on video.
In Spain, Kiki was re-christened "Nicky", and the film re-titled "Nicky la aprendiz de bruja" (Nicky the Apprentice Witch), because in Castilian Spanish, the phonetically similar quiqui carries unintentional adult connotations.
A live-action movie version based on the original books has been set for a 2009 release.
The character of the cat Jiji changed slightly. In the Japanese version, Jiji is voiced by a female actress, while in the American version Jiji has a more distinct male voicepossibly for fear audiences would think he is female, until he develops a romantic interest in the white Persian cat living nearbyand also has more of a wisecracking demeanor. In Japanese culture, cats are usually depicted with feminine voices, whereas in American culture their voices are more gender-specific.
In the original Japanese script, Jiji loses his ability to communicate with Kiki permanently, but in the American version a line is added that implies he is able to speak (or she to understand him) again. Miyazaki has said that Jiji is the immature side of Kiki, and this implies that Kiki, by the end of the original Japanese version, has matured beyond talking to her cat.
More minor changes, to appeal to the different demographics, include Kiki drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee and referring to "cute boys" instead of to "the disco". All changes were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
The English subtitled script used for the original VHS subbed release and the later DVD release, is also not accurate, but can more accurately be described as a combination of dubbing and subtitle. It is based on the original Streamline dub, and has resulted in several additions from that dub to migrate into the script regardless of whether they are present or not (such as Herbert Morrison's "Oh the humanity!" line during the blimp sequence). This came about because Tokuma gave Disney the script for the original dub, thinking it was an accurate translation, leaving this as the script that Disney worked on..
Majo no Takkyūbin opened July 29, 1989 in Japanese theaters; the total box office receipts were ¥2,170,000,000 ($18,172,849.38), proving to be quite a financial success and the highest grossing film in Japan of 1989. Upon the release of the English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service by Disney straight to VHS video on September 1, 1998, it was the 8th-most-rented title at Blockbuster stores during the first week of its availability. This video release also sold over a million copies. A few weeks later, Disney released another VHS of the movie, this time with the original Japanese soundtrack and with both English and Japanese subtitles. A Laserdisc version of the English dub was also available at this time. The Region 1 DVD was released on April 15, 2003, alongside Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky.
The conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America boycotted Kiki’s Delivery Service screenings and released a press release on May 28, 1998 titled “Disney Reverts to Witchcraft in Japanese Animation”. Calling for a boycott of The Disney Company, the group said the company “is still not family friendly, but continues to have a darker agenda”.
On September 4, 1998, Entertainment Weekly rated it as Video of the Year, and on September 12, 1998, it was the first video release to be reviewed as a normal film on Siskel and Ebert rather than on the "Video Pick of the Week" section. Siskel and Ebert gave it “two thumbs up” and Roger Ebert went on to rank it as one of the best animated films of 1998.
Other reviews were very positive as well. On Rotten Tomatoes, Kiki’s Delivery Service scores a "fresh" rating of 100% approval, out of a total of fourteen reviews.