Kiki's Delivery Service

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Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki, accompanied with Jiji the Cat, is waiting in the bakery. At the top is the film's title and credits.
Japanese theatrical release poster
HepburnMajo no Takkyūbin
Directed byHayao Miyazaki
Produced byHayao Miyazaki
Screenplay byHayao Miyazaki
Based onKiki's Delivery Service
by Eiko Kadono
Music byJoe Hisaishi
CinematographyShigeo Sugimura
Edited byTakeshi Seyama
Distributed byToei Company
Release date
  • July 29, 1989 (1989-07-29)
Running time
103 minutes
Budgetest. ¥800 million ($6.9 million)
Box office¥4.3 billion (Japan)[1]

Kiki's Delivery Service (Japanese: 魔女の宅急便, Hepburn: Majo no Takkyūbin, "Witch's Delivery Service") is a 1989 Japanese animated film written, produced, and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, adapted from the 1985 novel by Eiko Kadono. It was animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten, Yamato Transport and the Nippon Television Network Corporation and distributed by the Toei Company. The film tells the story of a young witch, Kiki, who moves to a new town and uses her flying ability to earn a living. According to Miyazaki, the movie portrays the gulf between independence and reliance in teenage Japanese girls.[2]

Kiki's Delivery Service was released in Japan on July 29, 1989,[3] and won the Animage Anime Grand Prix prize.[4] It was the first film released under a 15-year distribution partnership between The Walt Disney Company and Studio Ghibli;[5] Walt Disney Pictures produced an English dub in 1997, which premiered in United States theaters at the Seattle International Film Festival[6] on May 23, 1998. The film was released on home video in the U.S. and Canada on September 1, 1998.[7]


As is traditional for trainee witches, thirteen-year-old Kiki leaves home with her black cat named Jiji, with whom she talks. She flies on her broomstick to the port city of Koriko. While searching for somewhere to live, Kiki is pursued by Tombo, a geeky boy obsessed with aviation who admires her flying ability.

In exchange for accommodation, Kiki helps Osono, the kindly and heavily pregnant owner of a bakery. She opens a "Witch Delivery Business", delivering goods by broomstick. Her first delivery goes badly; she is caught in a gust of wind and drops the black cat toy she is supposed to deliver. Jiji pretends to be the toy at the recipient's house while Kiki searches for the toy. She finds it in the home of a young painter, Ursula, who mends and returns it to Kiki so she can complete the delivery and rescue Jiji.

Kiki accepts a party invitation from Tombo, but is delayed by her work and, exhausted, falls ill. When she recovers, Osono clandestinely arranges for Kiki to see Tombo again by assigning her a delivery addressed to him. After Kiki apologizes for missing the party, Tombo takes her for a test ride on the flying machine he is working on, fashioned from a bicycle. Kiki warms to Tombo but is put off by his friends' teasing and walks home.

After seeing a recipient's negative reaction to a delivered gift, Kiki becomes depressed and discovers she can no longer understand Jiji, who now spends more time with a pretty white cat. She has also lost her flying ability and is forced to suspend her delivery business. Ursula visits her and suggests that Kiki's crisis is a form of artist's block and that if Kiki finds a new purpose, she will regain her powers.

While visiting a customer, Kiki sees a live news report on television of an airship accident. Tombo is hanging precariously from one of the drifting vessel's mooring lines. Kiki rushes to the scene and rescues him by flying a borrowed broom, regaining her powers and her confidence. She resumes her delivery service and writes home to say she and Jiji are fine, but that there are still times when she feels sad.


Character name Original Japanese voice actor English voice actor
(Streamline Pictures/Tokuma, 1990)
English voice actor
(Disney, 1997/1998)
Kiki Minami Takayama Lisa Michelson Kirsten Dunst
Jiji Rei Sakuma Kerrigan Mahan Phil Hartman
Osono Keiko Toda Alexandra Kenworthy Tress MacNeille
Ursula Minami Takayama Edie Mirman Janeane Garofalo
Tombo Kappei Yamaguchi Eddie Frierson Matthew Lawrence
Fukuo Kōichi Yamadera Greg Snegoff Brad Garrett (uncredited)
Kokiri (Kiki's mother) Mieko Nobusawa Barbara Goodson Kath Soucie
Okino (Kiki's father) Kōichi Miura John Dantona Jeff Bennett
Madame Haruko Kato Melanie MacQueen Debbie Reynolds
Barsa Hiroko Seki Edie Mirman Edie McClurg
Senior Witch Yūko Kobayashi Wendee Lee Debi Derryberry
Madame's Granddaughter Keiko Kagimoto Sherry Lynn
Ket Yuriko Fuchizaki Lara Cody Pamela Segall
Maki (Ket's aunt) Kikuko Inoue Julia Fletcher
Ket's mother Mika Doi Diane Michelle
Ket's father Takaya Hashi Unknown
Miss Dora Shō Saito Diane Michelle Fay Dewitt
Truck Driver Michihiro Ikemizu Unknown
Hotel Receptionist Shinpachi Tsuji Doug Stone Matt K. Miller
Policeman Kōichi Yamadera Steve Kramer
Radio Announcer Carl Macek Corey Burton
Man with deck brush Takashi Taguchi Steve Kramer Unknown
Clock Tower Caretaker Tomomichi Nishimura Greg Snegoff Lewis Arquette
Baby Chika Sakamoto Russi Taylor (uncredited) Christine Cavanaugh (uncredited)
Friends Yūko Tsuga Unknown
Yoshiko Kamei
Old Lady Hiroko Maruyama Melanie MacQueen Mary Kay Bergman
Boy Unknown

Themes and analysis[edit]

Several aspects of Kiki's behavior and appearance have been the focus of commentary. One major theme is Kiki's transition into adulthood.[8] While being raised by loving parents who support her independence, Kiki is faced with problems common in adolescence such as finding a job, seeking acceptance, and taking care of herself.[9] The concept of vulnerability is also examined closely in the film. Critic Mark Schilling noted a scene during Kiki's first night away from home, staying with the bakers: early in the morning, she quickly steps out of her room into the outhouses and peers out to see the husband, Fukuo, stretching his muscles. After he leaves the scene, Kiki rushes back to her room and slams the door behind her while gasping for air. "The scene does absolutely nothing to advance the plot and the humor in it is wordlessly — and eloquently — expresses Kiki's youth, vulnerability, and isolation."[10]

Another theme is the transition from traditional to contemporary. Kiki is shown to balance both of these qualities. For instance, Kiki observes the tradition of witches wearing black, but adorns her hair with a bright red bow.[11] Kiki also engages in other traditional methods, such as baking with a wood-burning stove and flying her mother's old broom.[11]

Kiki's loss of her ability to fly and talk to Jiji is also the subject of discussion. It is considered the worst crisis Kiki has to face during the film.[12][13] The loss of flight reflects the harm dealt to Kiki by her own self-doubts.[12][14] This hardship is what causes Kiki to realize that being vulnerable does not always lead to failure. In essence, the experience demonstrates that such vulnerability can help one learn valuable lessons and better understand oneself.[14] Kiki in fact does not face any external adversaries in the film,[15] though some have argued that the crashing dirigible is a feasible example.[11][8] Jiji had served as the wiser voice (imaginary companion) to Kiki which the girl stopped hearing the moment she struggled with self-doubt. At the end of the film when Kiki had overcome her struggles, Jiji still did not talk for a different reason because, by this time, Kiki has become wiser.[16]

In relation to Kiki's portrayal as a witch, some have drawn comparisons to historical or contemporary views on witches and witchcraft. The film incorporates some conventions from fairy-tales such as a black cat companion for Kiki,[17] Kiki's use of a broom for flight, and her black dress.[18] While girls with magical powers are common in Japanese television, Miyazaki noted that, "the witchcraft has always merely been the means to fulfill the dreams of young girls. They have always become idols with no difficulties." In contrast, Kiki cannot use her powers as a means of wish fulfillment.[19]

Kiki has also been compared to other characters in Miyazaki's films. While there are overt differences in demeanor between Kiki and San from Princess Mononoke, a character who is motivated by anger, both characters take control over their own lives. This theme of remarkable independence is also seen in Miyazaki's earlier works, such as in Nausicaä in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.[20] Kiki is also compared to Chihiro of Spirited Away in the sense that they are both young girls attempting to seek independence without being rebellious. Chihiro is able to develop her independence through her friends and parents, just as Kiki leaves her village with her parents' blessings.[15]


In 1987, Group Fudosha asked Kadono's publishers for the rights to adapt Kadono's novel into a feature film directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli. However, both of the chosen directors were busy, working on My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies respectively.[21] Miyazaki accepted the role of producer while the studio continued to search for a director.[22] Near the end of Totoro's production, members of Studio Ghibli were being recruited as senior staff for Kiki's Delivery Service. The character design position was given to Katsuya Kondo, who was working with Miyazaki on Totoro. Hiroshi Ohno, who would later work on projects such as Jin-Roh, was hired as art director at the request of Kazuo Oga.

Miyazaki chose Sunao Katabuchi as director. Katabuchi had worked with Miyazaki on Sherlock Hound; Kiki's Delivery Service would be his directorial debut. Studio Ghibli hired Nobuyuki Isshiki as script writer, but Miyazaki was dissatisfied by the first draft, finding it dry and too divergent from his own vision of the film.[23] Since the novel was based in a fictional country in northern Europe, Miyazaki and the senior staff went to research landscapes and other elements of the setting. Their main stops were Stockholm and Visby on the Swedish island Gotland.[24]

Osono and Kiki serving customers at Gütiokipänjä Bakery. The name of the bakery is a pun on panya (Japanese for bakery, lit. bread shop) and Guchokipa, an alternate name for jankenpon, or Rock, Paper, Scissors.[25]

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.[26] Majo no Takkyūbin, the original children's book by 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. Kiki overcomes many challenges in the novel based on "her good heart" and consequently expands her circle of friends. She faces no particular traumas or crises.[27] Many of the more dramatic elements, such as Kiki losing her powers or the airship incident at the film's climax, are not present in the original story. In order to more clearly illustrate the themes of struggling with independence and growing up in the film, Miyazaki intended to have Kiki face tougher challenges and create a more potent sense of loneliness.[27] One such challenge is Kiki's sudden loss of ability to fly. This event is only loosely paralleled in the novel, in which Kiki's broom breaks and merely requires her to fix it.[10] Miyazaki remarked, "As movies always create a more realistic feeling, Kiki will suffer stronger setbacks and loneliness than in the original".[2] Kadono was unhappy with the changes made between the book and film, to the point that the project was in danger of being shelved at the screenplay stage.[28] 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.[29]

Miyazaki finished the rough draft of the screenplay in June 1988 and presented it in July 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.[26] 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.[30]

The word takkyūbin (宅急便, literally "home-fast-mail") in the Japanese title is a trademark of Yamato Transport (which is officially translated by Yamato as TA-Q-BIN), though it is used today as a synonym for takuhaibin (宅配便, "home-delivery-mail"). The company not only approved the use of its trademark, though its permission was not required under Japanese trademark laws,[31] but also enthusiastically sponsored the film, as the company uses a stylized depiction of a black cat carrying her kitten as its corporate logo.[32][33]

Kiki and Jiji illustrated by Akiko Hayashi from Majo no Takkyūbin. For the film, Kiki's hair was cut short to make the workload easier for the animators.[34]


The first official English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service was produced by Carl Macek of Streamline Pictures at the request of Tokuma Shoten for Japan Airlines' international flights.[35] Kiki was portrayed by voice actress Lisa Michelson, who voiced Satsuki in the Streamline Dub of My Neighbor Totoro. This dub is only available in the Ghibli Laserdisc Box Set.[36]

Kirsten Dunst voiced Kiki in Disney's 1997 English dub, released in 1998. This dub was also Canadian-American comedian and actor Phil Hartman's last voice-acting performance (as Jiji) before his death in 1998.[37] The dub is dedicated to his memory. The Disney English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 23, 1998. It was released to VHS on September 1, 1998. 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 also became available at this time. The Region 1 DVD was released on April 15, 2003 alongside the releases of Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky. It was again reissued on Region 1 DVD in March 2010 along with My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky as a tribute to the home release of Ponyo, with this version altered from the original English dub. 2 years later, on 1 July 2013, StudioCanal released a Blu-ray, followed by a Grave of the Fireflies release except in that same format, only in the United Kingdom.[38] Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Kiki's Delivery Service on Blu-ray Disc on November 18, 2014.[39] GKIDS re-issued the film on Blu-ray and DVD on October 17, 2017.[40]

Differences between versions[edit]

Kiki and Jiji (sitting on Kiki's back) flying by the clock tower in Koriko just after arriving. According to Helen McCarthy, the "vibrant" Stockholm-inspired city gives a sense of safety as well as independence.[41]

Disney's English dub of Kiki's Delivery Service contained some changes, which have been described as "pragmatic".[42] The changes were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.[43][44] There are a number of additions and embellishments to the film's musical score, and several lavish sound effects over sections that are silent in the Japanese original. The extra pieces of music, composed by Paul Chihara, range from soft piano music to a string-plucked rendition of Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.[45] The original Japanese opening theme is "Rouge no Dengon" (ルージュの伝言, Rūju no Dengon, "Message of Rouge"), and the ending theme is "Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara" (やさしさに包まれたなら, "Wrapped in Kindness"), both performed by Yumi Matsutoya (credited as Yumi Arai). The original opening and ending theme songs were replaced by two new songs, "Soaring" and "I'm Gonna Fly", written and performed for the English dub by Sydney Forest.

The depiction of the cat, Jiji, is changed significantly in the Disney version. In the Japanese version Jiji is voiced by Rei Sakuma, while in the English version Jiji is voiced by comedian Phil Hartman. In Japanese culture, cats are usually depicted with feminine voices, whereas in American culture their voices are more gender-specific.[46] A number of Hartman's lines exist where Jiji simply says nothing in the original. Jiji's personality is notably different between the two versions, showing a more cynical and sarcastic attitude in the Disney English version as opposed to cautious and conscientious in the original Japanese. In the original Japanese script, Kiki loses her ability to communicate with Jiji permanently, but the American version adds a line that implies that she is once again able to understand him at the end of the film.[47] 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.[48] More minor changes to appeal to the different teenage habits of the day include Kiki drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee and referring to "cute boys" instead of to "the disco".[49]

However, when Disney re-released the film on DVD in 2010, several elements of the English dub were changed, reverting more towards the original Japanese version. Several of Hartman's ad-libbed lines as Jiji were removed, and Sydney Forest's opening and ending songs were replaced with the original Japanese opening and ending songs.[50] Additionally, Jiji does not talk again at the end, implying that Kiki never regains the ability to talk to him, and many of the sound effects added to the original English version have been removed. The English subtitled script used for the original VHS subbed release and the later DVD release more closely adheres to the Japanese script, but still contains a few alterations. Tokuma mistakenly believed the Streamline dub was an accurate translation of the film and offered it to Disney to use as subtitles. As a result, several additions from the dub appear in the subtitles regardless of whether or not they are present in the film.[51] In Spain, Kiki was renamed "Nicky" because in Castilian Spanish the phonetically similar "quiqui" is commonly used in the slang expression "echar un quiqui", which means "to have intercourse". The film was re-titled Nicky la aprendiz de bruja (Nicky the Apprentice Witch).


A manga book series using stills from the film was published in Japan by Tokuma Shoten. An English translation was published in 2006 by VIZ Media, in 4 volumes.


In 1993, a musical version of the story was produced. Yukio Ninagawa wrote the script and Kensuke Yokouchi directed the show. The role of Kiki was portrayed by Youki Kudoh and the role of Tombo was portrayed by Akira Akasaka. Akasaka was replaced by Katsuyuki Mori within the year. A cast recording was produced by the original cast, and the show was revived in 1995 and 1996.


Kiki's Delivery Service premiered on July 29, 1989 in Japanese theaters. The film's distribution receipts were ¥2.17 billion,[52][53] with a total box office gross of ¥4.3 billion.[1]

The film proved to be a financial success and was the highest-grossing film in Japan in 1989.[54] The Japanese DVD was the best selling anime DVD for February 7, 2001.[55] Buena Vista Home Video's VHS release became the 8th-most-rented title at Blockbuster stores during its first week of availability.[56] This video release also sold over a million copies.[57]

At the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 98% of 41 reviews are positive for Kiki's Delivery Service, and the average rating is 8.1/10. The critics consensus reads, "Kiki's Delivery Service is a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world."[58] Metacritic, another aggregator, collected 15 reviews and calculated an average rating of 83 out of 100, signifying "universal acclaim."[59] 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.[56] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it "two thumbs up"[54][60] and Ebert went on to rank it as one of the best animated films released in the U.S. in 1998.[61] The film ranked #12 on Wizard's Anime Magazine's list of the "Top 50 Anime released in North America".[62] Other reviews were very positive as well. Andrew Johnston wrote in Time Out New York: "Although the story has a clear moral about learning to develop self-confidence, Kiki is never preachy. The story is given time to unfold at a natural pace..., which contributes greatly to the sense of depth it conveys."[63]

The conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America boycotted Kiki's Delivery Service screenings[64] and released a press release on February 5, 1998, titled "Disney Reverts to Witchcraft in Japanese Animation".[65] Calling for a boycott of The Walt Disney Company, the group said the company "is still not family friendly, but continues to have a darker agenda".[66][67]


Award Category Result Recipient
12th Anime Grand Prix Best Anime Won Kiki's Delivery Service[68]
Best Female Character Won Kiki[68]
Best Anime Theme Song Won Yasashisa ni Tsutsumaretanara[68]
44th Mainichi Film Award Best Animated Film Won Kiki's Delivery Service
Kinema Junpo Awards Readers' Choice Award Won Kiki's Delivery Service
13th Japan Academy Prize Special Award Won Kiki's Delivery Service[69]
Popularity Award Won Kiki's Delivery Service[69]
7th Annual Golden Gross Award Gold, Japanese Film Won Kiki's Delivery Service
The Movie's Day Special Achievement Award Won Kiki's Delivery Service
The Erandole Award Special Award Won Kiki's Delivery Service
Japan Cinema Association Award Best Film Won Kiki's Delivery Service
Best Director Won Hayao Miyazaki
Agency of Cultural Affairs Best Film Won Kiki's Delivery Service
Tokyo Metropolitan Cultural Honor Best Film Won Kiki's Delivery Service
7th Annual Money Making Director's Award Best Director Won Hayao Miyazaki[70]


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