Monday 10 March 2014

The Art of Kiki's Delivery Service Review

When my boyfriend got me The Art of Kiki's Delivery Service for Christmas, I was ecstatic. Kiki's Delivery Service is my favourite Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki film - though I realize it is not the best one of the bunch. It served as my first exposure to the world of Studio Ghibli, and also served to show me that I wasn't alone in adolescence. So I hold this film very close to my heart for expressing how I felt and giving me something new to love. Now, having read The Art of Kiki's Delivery Service, I feel even more strongly about my love for both Studio Ghibli and the film.

As I read through the pages of this book, I was exposed to new insights on the film that won me over many years ago. In the first of four sections - Part One: In The Beginning - we learn a little bit about the source material, locations, and ideas used for the film. In the introduction to the book, Hayao Miyazaki enlightens us on his perspective on the story:
"The wonderful children's book Kiki's Delivery Service (written by Eiko Kadono) gives an affectionate depiction of the hopes and spirit of today's girls struggling to become independent...
When I first came across Kiki, the first image that occurred to me was a small girl flying across the city at night. A sea of lights--but not a single one offers her a warm welcome. There's a profound loneliness high above the city. In flying, one may no longer be confined to land, but this freedom also implies insecurity and loneliness. The heroine of our film is a girl who defines herself by flying. There have been many animation films based on "witch girls," but their magic is only a device to realize their wishes. They function as celebrity idols without any real problems. The witch's magic in Kiki's Delivery Service doesn't come so easily.... 
Later on, as she flies above the city, Kiki feels a strong connection to the people below, but her sense of self is much stronger than it was in the beginning....
Ultimately, this film celebrates their struggle to become independent (After all, we were all boys and girls at one time; the struggle is just as urgent for our younger staff). "

In the first section of the book we learn that the inspiration for the setting of the film is Stockholm - specifically the district of Gamla Stan - as well as Gotland Island in Sweden. Though Miyazaki was only slated to produce (having just finished My Neighbor Totoro), he ended up writing and directing the film after not being able to find adequate people for the adaptation of the story.

What I particularly love about the Art of book is that much of what is explained in its pages has to do with the choices made behind the scenes. It also goes in depth with a lot of the technical aspects of producing an animated feature, which is in many ways very different from live-action filmmaking. This fascinated me because I come from a film background, and have always been curious about the inner workings of an animation studio. Two specific instances of this are:

1) They go over the purpose of the colour-assignment book.  This book notates specifically the colours used for each character and what the difference is between the Studio Ghibli choices versus a normal colour-assignment image.

2) The book also shows a detailed explanation of the colour palette and choices for the film compared to their past films at the time: Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindCastle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro.

The next section of the book - which is the largest section - goes into much more of the detail, further articulating the different pieces of concept art that they considered (while comparing it to final cel art that was used in the film), along with major character and story points.

In the original story illustration Kiki has long hair. The animators attempted this look in several ways in order to remain faithful to the source material but decided to go with short hair because of the difficulties that come with animating long hair.

From the art director, Hiroshi Ono, we learn that the idea behind the look of the Okino residence was to "emulate the original story's image of Kiki's house surrounded by flowers, giving it a fairy tale look." The concept art on this  page (bottom right) was done by Katsuya Kondo.

What ended up being one of the lovelier surprises was learning that the painting Ursula does of Kiki in the film was an actual painting done by a teacher at a school for the disabled (Hachinohe City Minato Special Junior High School).

This also explains why Kiki's face was depicted separately from the pegasus, as Miyazaki thought it "inconceivable" to replace the horse's face.

This section also goes into major story choices that were made by Miyazaki and the studio. For example, the choice to put the dirigible incident towards the end of the story was a very conscious one so as not to make it the focus of Kiki's journey. She needed to grow as a person and understand herself fully, with the dirigible incident being the catalyst that brought it all together.

Personally, I always wondered why Kiki rode around on her broom with her undies out for the world to see, and that is finally explained in this section, and I am glad to say it makes sense!
"Given how her flying fails when she first arrives here, it was crucial to redeem her at the end. Otherwise, the film would't resolve no matter how well she got along with the city's inhabitants. It's a rite of passage for her to fly over the city with her underwear exposed."

Part 3 goes into the more technical aspects of feature animation. The nerd in me jumped for joy to learn a few of the major differences between live-action filmmaking and feature animation.

The section not only covered some of the basics (what is a Track In shot, Track Back, Pan, Follow Shot etc), but also how the animators achieved some of the affects that appear to be relatively simple, but in reality are extremely complex. One such example is how they achieve the look of transparency or shadows with the use of double exposure.

The final section of the book was a bit of a surprise and completely unexpected; a complete storyboard version of the script completes the book.

I loved going through The Art of Kiki's Delivery Service every bit as a fan of animation, as well as as a huge fan of Studio Ghibli. Though the majority of the book is enjoyable, I do have two critiques of it. One is that even though the book had a lot of lovely information and pictures, the English seemed to be a little broken; a little difficult to get through at times. Which, when you think about it, makes sense, because of the fact that most of it, if not all, had to be translated from Japanese to English which is no easy feat by any means. Still, I wish a more experienced editor could have gone through it and looked at it from the perspective of reading-ease.

Second, most of the stills and cel art were things we have seen in the actual film. Aside from the character concept sketches and a few others, everything was virtually the same from the final film. I would have loved to see much more of the process, and concept art. However, considering this film was done in 1989, I'm assuming it was very difficult to track down all of the original sketches and keeping them intact for this long.

Even still, this book is a great addition to any Studio Ghibli collection, or for any animation collection. It is beautiful, insightful and endearing.


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