Making a live action version of a popular animated film is always going to be a challenge. And I guess attempting one that is considered a Studio Ghibli classic is exponentially harder. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” of course actually has it’s roots in a series of popular children’s novels, which this adaptation actually takes its inspiration from. But the biggest question is the presence of director Takashi Shimizu. You know, the guy responsible for “Ju-on”, “Shock Labyrinth” and “Tormented”. A stranger fit I cannot imagine. So shall we see how things turned out?
Teenage Witch-in-training Kiki (Fûka Koshiba)is at a crossroads in her life. She needs to make a decision whether she wishes to become a Witch, or live life as a normal human. To do the former, she need to undergo a trial – to live for a year amongst humans, in a place with no other Witches present, and live only off her skills. Now young Kiki has only concentrated on one magical skill, flying on her broom, but as she does love this more than anything, she goes off with her cat, Jiji, to try and fulfil this task. It all starts off swimmingly, given lodgings by a local baker, and she starts a business delivering thing to the people on the local islands. Initially adored by the local inhabitants, one job in particular goes awry, which leads to both distrust from the local community and a loss in faith on Kiki’s part, rendering her incapable of flying! Can she recover her talents in time to survive the final trial?
Hmmm. There’s things you have to take into account when watching this film. Firstly, it’s clearly a children’s film. So if you are 5 years old, you are going to have a totally different opinion than this jaded 40-something. Secondly, it is never going to live up to its animated predecessor, especially when the budget being played with here is clearly limited. But these things don’t matter do they if the story and performances are great right?
For the first 20 minutes, things do look really hopeful. There’s imagination and style to the film. And then it all suddenly gets all a bit flat. The special effects are very ordinary (a mix of green screen, poor CGI and a little animatronics) at the best of times, and occasionally they look awful – Jiji appears to be the world’s smallest cat! Then there are Kiki’s adventures themselves. On the whole they are just so… minor and uninspiring. The big climax involves carrying a baby hippo through a storm to another island. It just all feels.. underwhelming.
On the other hand, despite the SFX being fairly dreadful, the actual styling of the characters and sets is actually pretty good. Things like Kiki’s Windmill home and Tombo’s flying bike are realised fairly well. Yes, the whole thing does look more like a TV show than a feature film, but at least some of the technical side of things has a little gloss if nothing else.
I actually have a bit of a theory. My guess is that this was originally conceived as a 10 part J-Drama. The structure of the film, with a bunch of underdeveloped characters, each introduced for some minor job really feels like a J-drama season arc. For example, at one point Jiji goes missing. And then returns 15 minutes later, with no real explanation or forward progression on any narrative point. You can’t help feeling there was originally more going on here. The film is just full of 10 minute segments that each could easily have been filled out a little more.
I have a hard time believing Shimizu really directed this. I am far from his biggest fan, finding his films usually nothing more than a collection of smart set pieces. But at least even in those films there are moments of class. This one is just bland and utterly lacking in anything to impress or grab.
There is one shining light. Fûka Koshiba is an utter delight, and is really giving a heap of personality to the role, where everyone else seems to be putting in the most basic of efforts. I do have to question the decision to put her in her underwear for a few sequences (and no – I should clarify, this isn’t anything creepy. It’s very old fashioned underwear, and we aren’t talking panty shots, but it does feel a little strange for a movie that clearly is pandering to a under-10’s market).
If this were a pilot for a TV show, then it would be a pretty good offering. As a movie though, it fails on pretty much every level. If I was giving it a positive spin, at least it isn’t horrible and offensive. I would suggest it is more opportunity lost, but I have to give this a Not Recommended.