Year Released: 1998
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Matthew Lawrence, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garafalo, Debbie Reynolds
(G, 103 min.)
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller
Rent Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki creates a delight in his fantasy trip with Kiki, a thirteen year old witch in training who must live on her own for one year. Her flying skills may leave a bit to be desired, but Kiki does have an eye for real estate, choosing a sparkling city “floating in the sea” for her new home.
However, her first encounters with the gem of a city are anything but pleasant. First, there is her less than auspicious landing, which sets off some rather nasty collisions for the traffic meandering through the cobbled streets. And then there is the unenlightened policeman who doesn’t much approve of broomsticking without a license, not to mention Jiji (Phil Hartman), her cynical cat/familiar, quick to note their rapidly dwindling monetary reserves and lack of housing.
That the pesky policeman is drawn off by a new admirer, fourteen-year-old Tombo, fails to impress Kiki (Kirsten Dunst), who chooses this moment to fall back on formalities such as proper introductions and so forth. It is not until Kiki uses her flying ability to return a left behind pacifier to Mum and about to bawl baby that she sees any viable way for fitting in to her new city. Osono (Tress MacNeille), the very pregnant owner of the town bakery, offers Kiki a room and encourages her in her new pursuits, rounding up potential customers a easily as she coaxes home-baked bread and sweets from her floured hands.
Undaunted by her rather sketchy flying talents, Kiki sweeps the flour dust coating off her loft bedroom, marvels at the sea view, and sets about her business. What draws us to Kiki is her perky sense of adventure, her resourcefulness, and her positive outlook. There’s no teenage potting or whining, but instead a can do attitude.
For instance, when a sudden storm lands Kiki and Jiji atop some trees teeming with nesting crows eager to rid themselves of these unwanted guests, she puts her broom into overdrive and soars to safety, only to realize the toy cat she’d been paid to delivery has fallen behind. The ever-faithful Jiji is somehow persuaded to stand in for the toy until Kiki can retrieve it, a situation not helped by the close presence of the very large family dog at his temporary digs.
This adventure is but a warm-up to an airborne bicycle ride with Tombo along the coastal precipices, a rain-soaked flight to an ungrateful girl who disparages the birthday pastry her grandmother has sent her, and the resulting illness and loss of powers that follow. Not to mention budding romance, a runaway blimp, and a spectacular necessity to reawaken those powers posthaste.
Technical and artistic excellence mark this Miyazaki treat, a film with enough adventure for the whole family, but not too scary for youngsters. (My four year-old grandson couldn’t wait to share his second viewing with me, and he was mature enough not to give away the plot – something many adults cannot resist.)
The animation was all hand drawn, the characters well-defined and clear, with exquisite backgrounds that look like impressionist paintings, proving the effectiveness of the 462 colors used to create this masterpiece. The seaside town, called Kiriko, was essentially modeled after the heart of Stockholm, Sweden, but it also had bits and pieces of Lisbon, Paris, San Francisco, and Milan. When pressed, Miyazaki says it is 1950’s Europe, but one spared both world wars.
Perhaps that is why the film has such a sweet and idyllic feel, an idealized adolescence where the only dangers come from raucous crows, sudden winds, and lecturing policemen.
The rites of passage are supposed to be tough. I mean, trekking through the dark woods, almost dying of thirst in the desert, armed combat and blood-spattered garments.
Well, I guess young witches have it a little easier. What could be cooler than a loft overlooking the sea and waking up to the fragrance of freshly baked bread! Just the thing to get Kiki in gear for another day of adventurous flight atop her broomstick.
Bowing to Stockholm because it was the inspiration for the Kiki’s seaside city, I’ve found an easy version of a Swedish Apple Pie, this one a bit unusual due to its lack of crust and infusion of pecans.
If Kiki took her cues from Jenna of Waitress fame, I’m sure she would name it, “Let’s Straighten Up and Fly Right So I Won’t Land in the Trees Again Pie.”
Swedish Apple Pie
"I won 1st place in an apple bake-off contest with this recipe. It is the easiest and best apple pie I have ever tasted. It has no crust. Believe me; it does not need one. I always use Granny Smith apples because they are the best apples for pies. Enjoy!!!!"
- 2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cup margarine, melted
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9 inch pie pan with margarine.
- Fill 2/3 of the pan with sliced apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar.
- In a medium bowl, mix 1 cup sugar with the melted margarine. Stir in pecans, flour, egg and salt. Mix well. Spread mixture over the apples.
- Bake in preheated oven for 65 minutes, or until golden brown.
Recipe Source: Sonja Allen