Kiki’s Delivery Service [Majo no Takkyūbin] (1989)

Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

For a country which reportedly has one of the world’s highest stress rates (and perhaps as a result), Japan has produced some of the screen’s most tranquil and relaxing viewing experiences, whether it’s the works of Yasujirō Ozu or Studio Ghibli. Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a trainee witch travelling to a city and using her flying skills to start her own delivery service. Set in the fictional city of Koriko (or Corico as some sources spell it), an urban dwelling inspired by Stockholm and the small Swedish town of Visby which is given no real-world area however the geographical layout of the city within the film feels incredibly well defined (bring on the Kiki’s Delivery Service open-world video game). Director Hayao Miyazaki is quoted as having said “Kokiro has one side on the shores of the Mediterranean, and the other on the Baltic Sea [laughs]”. Correspondingly, Miyazaki states Kiki’s Delivery Service takes place in an alternative 1950s Europe in which both world wars never happened and this rejection of modernity is a constant theme throughout Studio Ghibli’s output. It’s easy to lose yourself in the world within Kiki’s Delivery Service with its classical European architecture, cobblestone streets and houses equipped with traditional ovens. During the film’s opening, Kiki wants to leave her tiny village in the countryside for the city, yet to the viewer, this place is heaven on Earth with its green fields, bright blue skies and cosy cottages. The accompanying music score by Joe Hisaishi features many moments of joyful bliss with a mix of classical European, vaudevillian and ragtime music. On A Clear Day radiates that feeling of a sunny day while the piece which plays as Kiki arrives in her newfound hometown titled A Town With An Ocean View is dark yet optimistic. My favourite piece is that played over the unveiling of painting featuring Kiki titled An Unusual Paining in which the dreamlike, new-age mystic piece leaves one with a sense of wonder.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the best films about entrepreneurialism and the entrepreneurial spirit. The world of Kiki’s Delivery Service appears to be a libertarian paradise, a world which appears to be devoid of any business regulation (“Oi mate, you got a loicense to deliver that cake?”) in which children are driving cars, flying permits are not required for amateur aircraft, a minor can own a business, there is no mention of child labour laws nor any mention of Kiki continuing or ever having attended a school and a place in which you can invent flying machines without any apparent regulations – what Ayn Rand would describe as “full, pure, uncontrolled laissez-faire capitalism”. This lack of regulation or government oversight extends to the fact that Kiki leaves her home to be independent while still a minor at the age of 13. Her mother does mention “nobody leaves home that young anymore”, but aside from this, no concern is raised for a 13-year-old going off to live by herself nor any form of social services is present to get involved. Is this form of libertarianism and capitalism presented here ultimately a fantasy that would not work in real life with the presence of predatory big business (or am I over-analyzing a film for subtext that’s not there)? Miyazaki once stated about capitalism: “During the time I was trying to conclude Nausicaä , I did what some might think is a turnabout. I totally forsook Marxism. I decided it was wrong, that historical materialism is also wrong, and that I shouldn’t see things with it.” Only a few years following the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki would craft fictional benevolent capitalists like the ever so loving and joyful Osono, the owner of the bakery Gütiokipänjä and a compassionate, benevolent landlady who showcases the human side of business (likewise, there’s something comic about the mere presence of Osono’s unnamed husband, the tall, buff, stoic figure who utters little more than a grunt). Kiki’s Delivery Service is a film which conveys the value of money as Kiki has to carefully budget what money she has after arriving in town, forcing herself to live off pancakes and work for her money while other kids her age spend their time procrastinating and driving cars. It’s moments like her visit to the grocery store and her sticker shock over the price of items which really makes the film so down to Earth.

The overall sweet, wholesome nature of Kiki’s Delivery Service makes my inner valley girl wants to proclaim, “like omg, cutest movie ever!!”. Everything about the titular heroine is unbearably cute from her facial expressions to her over the top reactions to even the slightest bit of good news and her occasional hyperactive nature. Kiki is seen as modern by the standards of her village yet old fashioned by the standards of the city. She struggles to fit in with the city’s children yet is able to engage with two elderly ladies thanks in part to her knowledge of how devices such as how a wood-burning oven works. Kiki is repulsed by how rude the children in the city act from the overly-inquisitive girl hunter Tombo to the ungrateful girl who receives the herring pie from her grandmother. This theme of maturity extends to the relationship Kiki shares with her cat Jiji. After she loses her powers which include the ability to speak to Jiji, it remains the one power she does not regain at the film’s conclusion. I do find it somewhat heartbreaking that Kiki never regains this ability but then again, speaking to a cat as if they’re human is in itself a rather childish thing to do and thus a sign of Kiki’s newfound maturity as she gets older. It does raise the question if Jiji could actually speak to Kiki in the first place or was it just in her mind? Yet in the English dub, Kiki restores her ability to speak to Jiji at the end, regardless Phil Hartman’s sarcastic Jiji makes the English dub worth watching.

So by all accounts, Kiki’s Delivery Service sounds like the most based, conservative, red-pilled, right-wing movie ever made espousing the values of tradition, power of the individual and the pick yourself up from the bootstraps mentality? Well not quite. Kiki is after all practising pagan witchcraft rather than being a good God-fearing Christian. Although in all seriousness, God is actually mentioned in both the dubbed version and the English subtitles of the original Japanese version in which Ursula states – “The spirit of witches. The spirit of artists. The Spirit of bakers! I suppose it must be a power given by God. Sometimes you suffer for it”. Although this is not the line in the original script and is a creation of the English subtitles the film still contains the ever slight reference to religion with Kiki flying past a Christian church in the opening credits. It’s not difficult to buy into the fantasy premise in which witches with supernatural abilities openly co-exist in society, and can even marry non-witches such as Kiki’s father (are her powers genetically passed down from her mother?). However these are not witches in the traditional sense, there are no devils, pentagrams or virgin sacrifices present in the film (Kiki’s mother is introduced creating a potion using modern science equipment). There does appear to be one dark side presented about these witches in which Jiji remarks “Crows used to be witches’ servants” to which Kiki angrily responds “That was a long time go, okay?” – make of that what you will. Also, while it is odd to bring up, I am forced to mention as it does come off as peculiar for the western viewer is the inclusion of many up-skirt shots throughout the film. It’s not sexual but no doubt will cause some monocles to fall into champagne glasses. That said, Miyazaki actually has a reasoning for this. On page 138 in The Art Of Kiki’s Delivery Service, he is quoted saying “It’s a rite of passage for her to fly over the city with her underwear exposed” – make of that what you will.

Despite lacking a villain within the story, Kiki’s Delivery Service does manage to set up a finale with an action set piece and one which utilizes Miyazaki’s love of aviation. Likewise, I do enjoy how Studio Ghibli’s films make the end credits a part of the movie-watching experience, something I wish more films would do general (Kiki’s continued use of a bassline broom after the destruction of her traditional witches’ broom is a nice touch). The aforementioned subplot of Kiki losing her powers immediately reminded me of the similar subplots in Superman II and Spider-Man 2. In all three films, the loss of powers comes from stress, burnout, the descent into depression and the inability to lead a normal life (granted Superman choose to give his powers up voluntarily but the comparison still holds). Kiki’s Delivery Service can be read as an allegory for modern young creatives trying to make it on their own with Kiki’s magic being used as a metaphor for artistic expression whether it’s attempting to become a YouTuber or trying to run a successful movie review blog (wink, wink) and attempting to accompany this into a work-life balance. The other character who reflects the passion for a creative to turn their passion into a job is the painter Ursula. She speaks of how her pursuit of painting is what gets rid of her frustrations and her remedy for the loss of creativity involves “Take[ing] long walks, look at the scenery, doze off at noon. Don’t do a single thing” – and yes, on a personal level this I can relate to. Kiki’s Delivery Service is as fine a tribute to the creative and entrepreneurial spirit and regardless of your passion, “Sometimes you suffer for it”.

Late Spring [Banshun] (1949)

Sometimes It Snows In April

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

For some directors, it can take time before they hit their full stride. Alfred Hitchcock had been directing movies for 25 years prior to directing his most iconic works in the 1950s and ’60s. Correspondingly, Japanese filmmaker, Yasujirō Ozu had been directing for 22 years before he made Late Spring, in my opinion, his magnum opus (although I know others will argue in favour of Tokyo Story) and the beginning of his golden age in which he created a profound series of films about Japanese middle-class domesticity (whereas his work pre-1949 tended to focus more towards poverty-stricken families).

Late Spring is also the first entry of The Noriko Trilogy (alongside Early Summer and Tokyo Story), with all three films starring Setsuko Hara, often named The Eternal Virgin in her country of origin, and it’s not hard to see why. I would defy anyone to watch Late Spring and not fall in love with this capital G Goddess of feminine virtue – with her angelic, shy demeanour emanating a slightly bent over posture alongside a smile that could kill. Late Spring showcases her as an actress of amazing depth and able to convey such deep emotional range in the role of Noriko Somiya. There is somewhat of a contradictory nature to the character of Noriko when it comes to her conservative views. Noriko finds her uncle’s remarrying to be “distasteful” and “impure” and not afraid to say it to his face (albeit in a kindly manner) and can’t bear the idea of her widowed father doing the same thing. Hara is able to portray a character of such saintly purity (it’s even mentioned she does not drink) without it ever becoming sickenly so. Yet contradicting this is the reluctance she holds to get married herself. 

The relationship Noriko shares with her widowed father, Shukichi (Chishū Ryū) is both odd and endearing. She is unemployed and takes joy in looking after her old father, acting as a housewife minus any incestuous implications. Details presented in Late Spring are scant about the character’s histories, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks. I can assume the young woman would be inclined to share this kind of a relationship with her father due to their time during the war. It is mentioned during the course of the film that Noriko endured forced labour during this period and “had to run around to get food on her day off”, and is required to receive regular blood tests as a result. Chishū Ryū on-the-other-hand feels like he was born an old man, made to look older than he was in all three films of The Noriko Trilogy, and convincingly so.

At the age of 27 and still single, Noriko is approaching the “late spring” of her shelf life, reaching the age she would no longer be considered marriageable, but is unwilling to part from the status-quo arrangement she has with her father. Like a number of Ozu films, the story of Late Spring centers around arranged marriage, although anathema to viewers in the west, it does not detract from the universality of his work. A scene that really hits home for me is that in which Noriko’s aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) has a talk with Noriko about marrying. We’ve all been there, when an elder tells us to stop what we are doing and sit down to have a serious chat in which we feel uncomfortable but deep down we know they are correct even if one, like Noriko, signifies their objections but later comes to an eventual acceptance. Noriko’s arranged partner, Mr Kumataro Satake (aka Bear Boy), remains an off screen character, with the only detail passed onto the viewer about his physical appearance is that he looks like Gary Cooper, especially around the mouth but not the top half – allowing the viewer to once again fill in the blanks. 

On a further personal note, I first watched Late Spring at the age of 28, only 1 year older than the character of Noriko, and despite this being a film about a young Japanese women’s pressure to get married in the years following the war, it still spoke to me on the basis that life is passing you by, that change is an inevitable part of life with the pain and heartache which comes with that must be endured. When Noriko speaks to her father at the end of a trip to Kyoto just before the wedding, she speaks of how “I just want to be with you, like this. I don’t want to go anywhere I’m happy being with you like this.” – Just ensure you have a box of Kleenex handy.

When watching any film of Ozu’s later period, the viewer will immediately be put into a great sense of ease with his trademark use of pillow shots (two or three quiet compositions usually showing an architectural detail, a banner in the wind, a tree or the sky) alongside the ever tranquil music scores. Unique however to the opening pillow shots of a railway station in Late Spring is the quaint, English feel to it, aided by the images of a gentle breeze in the leaves and the sound of birds chirping. If I was shown this opening out of context, I could swear it was neo-realist footage of a quiet, remote part of the English countryside. Likewise, the geometric nature of the interior of Japanese homes along with Ozu’s unique style of composition with use of the so called tatami shot is very pleasing to the eyes. This look into another culture extends to the film’s documentary-like aspects as we are treated to slices of everyday post-war Japanese life from kids playing baseball to the inclusion of a Noh play. The westernization present in Japanese films from this period can come off as a shock for first-time viewers of Japanese cinema such as the sight of Tokyo’s classical European architecture as seen in Late Spring.

The scene in which Noriko and Hattori (Jun Usami) go for a recreational cycle by the seaside is the cinematic encapsulation for the joy of living. A scene bustling with freedom and a lust for life with the sight of a smiling Setsuko Hara with her hair blowing in the wind alongside the quirky, upbeat music which accompanies the scene should be in the pantheon of cinema’s most iconic moments. It also contains the unexpected but memorable inclusion of a Coca-Cola sign featured prominently in the foreground – one of the most memorable pieces of product placement I’ve seen in a film. This sign along with another road sign in English warning that the weight capacity of the bridge the duo are riding over is 30 tons (irrelevant information for the two cyclists but necessary for any military vehicles to pass over) could be interpreted as signs to the otherwise unseen US occupation. Concurrently, I believe it’s not unreasonable to assume that Aya’s (Yumeji Tsukioka) ex-husband of whom she speaks of throughout the course of the film is a US serviceman. Aya refers to him by the name “Ken”, which Shukichi assumes is short for “Kenkichi” however Aya never corrects him. The other significant clue is Aya’s difficulty in sitting in a traditional Japanese manner without her legs getting numb, suggesting she has become more used to the western manner of sitting.

The Wikipedia page for Late Spring is bizarrely long and extremely detailed, more famous films have less in-depth articles – the work of an eager fan perhaps? In my research, I have found Late Spring only received its first home video release in the United States in 1994 and the mass availability of the films from this master of cinema has only become reality within the last decade. Perhaps the discovery of Yasujirō Ozu‘s work in the west outside of film circles has only begun?

The Fondathon Has Arrived!

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The Fondathon has arrived! A big thank you to everyone who took part. We look forward to reading your entries. Please check back over the next three days as I will be updating the blogathon as participants post their entries.

Please be sure to leave comments on the participant’s blogs. I’m sure they will enjoy the feedback!

I will be hosting another blogathon in the not too distant future, so stay tuned for details!

 

The Entries (In Alphabetical Order):

It Came From the Man Cave!: 9 to 5 (1980)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: 12 Angry Men (1957)

The Flapper Dame: The Big Street (1942)

The Midnite Drive-In: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) & Race with the Devil (1975)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Easy Rider (1969)

Sat In Your Lap: The Electric Horseman (1979)

The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Jezebel (1938)

Musings of a Classic Film Addict: Let Us Live (1939)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood: The Lady Eve (1941) & Barefoot In the Park (1967)

Dubism: Mister Roberts (1955)

Silver Screenings: My Darling Clementine (1946)

Thoughts All Sorts: Once Upon a Time In the West (1968)

Overture Books and Film: Rings On Her Fingers (1942)

Pop Culture Reverie: Shag (1989)

The Story Enthusiast: Sunday In New York (1963)

Movierob: The Tin Star (1957), Klute (1971) & Ulee’s Gold (1997)

portraitsbyjenni: Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

Announcing The Fondathon!

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Update: All entries can be read here!

The Fondas are an acting dynasty headed by patriarch Henry Fonda (1905-1982) who’s children Jane and Peter Fonda, granddaughter Bridget Fonda and grandson Troy Garity all became actors.

-For this blogathon please write about any film or TV show starring any of the Fondas or any topic relating to them.

-No more than two duplicates on any film or TV show will be allowed.

-To participate please comment along with the URL and name of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover of course. Or if you desire you can email the same details to me via mmallon4@gmail.com. Once your topic is approved please take one of the banners below and add it to your blog.

Date: February 1st – 3rd, 2019. Please submit your entries on these dates. I look forward to you joining in February!

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The Roster:

Sat In Your Lap: The Electric Horseman (1979)

The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Jezebel (1938)

Silver Screenings: My Darling Clementine (1946)

In The Good Old Days Of Classic HollywoodThe Lady Eve (1941) & Barefoot In the Park (1967)

portraitsbyjenni: Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

The Story Enthusiast: Sunday In New York (1963)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Easy Rider (1969)

Dubism: Mister Roberts (1955)

Thoughts All Sorts: Once Upon a Time In the West (1968)

The Wonderful World of Cinema: 12 Angry Men (1957)

It Came From the Man Cave!: 9 to 5 (1980)

Movierob: The Tin Star (1957), Klute (1971) & Ulee’s Gold (1997)

The Midnite Drive-In: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) & Race with the Devil (1975)

Musings of a Classic Film Addict: Let Us Live (1939)

The Flapper Dame: The Big Street (1942)

Overture Books and Film: Rings On Her Fingers (1942)

Pop Culture Reverie: Shag (1989)

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968)

Every Sperm Is Sacred

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Frank Beardsley’s (Henry Fonda) opening narration tells of how his children feel he neglected his wife and their mother; an interesting parallel to real life in which Fonda told his wife Frances Ford Seymour in 1949 he wanted a divorce so he could remarry after an unhappy 13 year marriage; a confession which drove her to suicide. Not to mention Fonda was a man who was “emotionally distant” to his children starring in a movie like Yours, Mine and Ours, but being the great actor he is, never is he out of place.

Yours, Mine and Ours doesn’t have a massive amount of substance but has just enough to keep it afloat. It’s not the most advanced comic material for the likes of Lucille Ball but she makes the most of it. Apparently, Fonda became deeply in love with Ball during filming and the two became very close; always a benefit to the on-screen chemistry. Likewise, sex references still manage to slip into a family film (“He’ll bring me home in plenty of time for dessert”). The cinematography is also surprisingly advanced for a movie of this kind such as seen in the very opening shot of the film in which the camera pans back from a close up of Fonda to a battleship in its entirety. Likewise, there are plenty of effective shots of San Francisco.

The old-fashioned family ideals in Yours, Mine and Ours were not in tune with a changing America of the time. The film was originally to be made in the early 60’s but was delayed due to various setbacks but the fashions present here are clearly of the late 60’s. With the film’s inclusion of battleships and planes, the movie clearly has US Navy endorsement and I can see this pro-military aspect of the film not going down well during the days of the Vietnam War. Likewise, at the end of the film the eldest son Michael Beardsley joining the armed forces; so I guess that’s off to Nam! This is the aspect of Yours, Mine and Ours which I find the most interesting; it’s a film which the product of before it’s time, clinging onto bygone values. For example, the movie has Van Johnson in a supporting role whom I’ve always pictured as being an archetypal 50’s actor. But more importantly Frank Beardsley can’t be a stay at home father, he’s clearly a man’s man as evident from his high ranking position in the navy.

Jack Frost (1998)

He’s Snowboarding On His Flesh

When I was a kid, nothing got me and my friends more hyped up in anticipation than snow. Yep – the glorious white stuff. To us, there were few other activities as fun as playing in the snow. One major problem, however; I grew up in a country in which we only get about 3-4 days a year of significant snowfall in which it would actually settle on the ground. So when there was a significant level of snowfall, we would make the utmost use of it. Snowball fights, sledding, snow angels and of course, making a snowman.

Snowmen were a subject of my childhood fascination. Why? They just have a certain magical appeal. Whenever I would see one in someone else’s garden, I would always have to point it out, “Look, a snowman!” So when my friends and I heard about the movie Jack Frost, in which a snowman comes to life, we were psyched to see it. Although there already existed the 1982 animated short The Snowman which had a similar premise, I believe Jack Frost appealed to us more for several reasons:
-It was a movie more of our generation.
-It was live action and the snowman looks just like a real snowman we could have created ourselves.
-But most importantly, the movie was called Jack Frost. When I was younger, whenever there was a frosty night, we would always say that Jack Frost is out tonight.

So one weekend myself and one of my friends rented Jack Frost on video and we thought it was an absolute blast. However even at that age we thought there were some stupid moments, such as when Charlie is hanging over a wall of snow and he’s supposed to be in danger, yet the drop itself is tiny; or during the sledge chase sequence when two kids just happen to have a snowball the size of a boulder on standby to stop Charlie and Jack. However, the one aspect of the film we found to be the most unbelievable was in how Charlie had not got over his father’s death one year on. The reason for this is that a friend of ours had recently lost his father to an illness, yet was back in school one week later, acting as he normally would. To us, Charlie isolating himself from his friends due to his father’s death one year on seemed far-fetched. In retrospect, however, this view was short-sighted.

Regardless we could only look on in envy at just how much snow this fictional picture perfect postcard town of Medford, Colorado had. In my home country when it did snow our teachers wouldn’t even let us go outside to play in it. Yet in Jack Frost, the kids are able to go into the snow and have trench warfare battle snowball fights. Plus they don’t even wear school uniforms?! You can imagine the jealousy us kids had for our Yankee counterparts.

Several years later, I saw Jack Frost again on TV one weekend and the following Monday in school, it seems half the class also watched it and were all raving about how much we loved it; discussing our favourite moments, talking about the scenes we found to be the funniest. Even my teacher had watched it over the weekend and called it – and I quote – “a wonderful film”.

Now years later with the advent of the internet, I find out that Jack Frost is considered a terrible film and the critics trashed it. However, when watching it again after all these years it still strikes a chord with me as a pool of happy, nostalgic memories coming flooding back. But what I can I take from the film and examine now with an adult perspective?

One of the biggest criticisms I hear against the movie is that the snowman is creepy. Even Roger Ebert criticised the design with its anorexic looking twigs for arms. Well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder I guess. I also liked the design of the snowman as I think not only does he look cute but looks just like a snowman the average kid would make. The snowman was originally designed for George Clooney and I can see Clooney’s face within it. Apparently, the casting change to Michael Keaton caused major problems for the film’s SFX team. Watching my late 90’s DVD copy of Jack Frost, the CGI doesn’t look half bad. Although if I was to ever watch the film on an HD transfer perhaps it might not look as good.

Jack Frost belongs to that breed of film which was everywhere in the ’90s in which a workaholic father can’t make time for his kids. As drawn out as this cliché was in the 90s, it does raise the question – should you even have children if you’re going to dedicate yourself to a lifelong career or venture? Jack Frost does go a step further with this examination of fatherlessness with the character of Rory whom as the movie states, never saw his old man and resents it (“It sucks, it sucks big time”). Any coincidence his character is a delinquent. The father-son relationship in Jack Frost does tug at my heartstrings and yes, that ending kills me.

Many aspects of Jack Frost scream this is a late 90’s movie from those early CGI credits to the film’s emphasises on extreme sports such as hockey and snowboarding. Even the antagonist is named Rory Buck – might as well be called 90’s Mc 90’serson. Even the radio presenter at the beginning of the film states: “we got more music coming from the 70’s and 90’s. No 80’s I promise” (Boo!).

Viewing Jack Frost from a more mature perspective I am forced to suspend my disbelief at my many aspects of the film’s plot. So for starters, does the afterlife exist within the universe of Jack Frost? Where was Jack for the entire year before he came back as a snowman? Was he in purgatory? How did he suddenly find out how to change back to his human self then leave? What’s the deal with the magic harmonica? Does God himself exist in this universe?

Then there’s that whole snowboarding sequence. It’s a blast to watch even though I have to refrain from questioning how illogical it is. I already thought the conveniently placed snow boulders where stupid as a kid but I also notice how snowboards and snowbikes are all conveniently placed. But more importantly, the kids do notice that Charlie is sledding with a sentient snowman? Also, have you considered that he’s essentially snowboarding on his flesh? But who cares, this sequence is a ton of fun and Hey Now Now by Swirl 360 is a tune. That money shot of Jack Frost snowboarding in mid-air brings a smile to my face.

Rock on Jack Frost! Snow dad is better than no dad!