Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Eiko Kadono (novel), Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)
At the age of thirteen, witches set out to live independently for a year in another city. Young witch-in-training Kiki is excited to live in a city by the sea, but she worries that the only magical ability she possesses is to fly. She therefore starts a flying delivery service, but her continued insecurities lead to a loss of her powers. Will Kiki learn to believe in herself before she loses her magic forever?
Kiki’s Delivery Service enchanted me the first time I saw it and it loses none of its power with age. I remember the film fondly as fun and bright, a tale that includes a talking cat, an endearingly awkward boy, and an exciting air rescue. But now when I watch it, I see past Kiki’s bubbly exterior to the deep uncertainty that dogs her every step. She may approach the world with an almost wild confidence and a certain admirable recklessness, but underneath it she’s only a thirteen-year-old girl and she cares more about fitting in with her peers than she does about training. How funny that I never realized before how muck Kiki hates that black dress and what it seems to signify–a separation from other children, an “otherness” that can’t be bridged. After all, from my perspective, who wouldn’t want to be Kiki, setting off for new adventures, soaring fearlessly through the sky on her broomstick, and talking, actually talking, to her cat!
From my new perspective, I realize that a certain poignancy pervades the film. Kiki arrives to an intially hostile city, yet quickly (almost miraculously) settles in, finding herself a place to live, an easy way to earn money, and an invitation to friendship. And yet the entire time she fails to see the things that are in front of her eyes, choosing instead to isolate herself in her high room. Kiki’s aversion to Tombo never made sense to me–he’s the male lead in this film, he’s clearly nice despite his almost stalkerish tendencies, right?–but now I understand that it was nothing Tombo did, but only Kiki’s fear of discovering he didn’t want her after all. It was the same with the children in the car. Like them, I used to think they must have said something Kiki somehow found offensive. But again, Kiki’s only enemy is herself. It is a dark realization.
I mourn a little bit my lost innocence. I remembered this film as having a rather standard plot–the one where a plucky girl momentarily loses belief in herself, but then saves the day. Instead I find a bittersweet story about the tensions inside a young girl as she struggles to gain her independence and to accept herself while always remembering that she is dependent on others and that she will always be different. It’s difficult not to feel pain watching Kiki unwittingly sabotage herself time and again.
And yet, this is a bright and fun story, one where people can fly, cats can talk, and miracles can happen. Kiki lives surrounded by the most extraordinary people, from the couple who take her in with no questions asked to the artist who helps her listen to her heart. This is a world mostly full of love and trust. Time and again Kiki walks into people’s lives and their homes, fearing nothing and finding herself rewarded with friends. Sometimes, now, I find it almost too good to be true.
Though my cynical older self may have more difficulty accepting Miyazaki’s world, I cannot deny that it is one in which I very much want to believe. I want to believe that Kiki can fly, that she has accepted herself and that that makes all things possible. I want to believe that people are inherently good and that in approaching others I will always find a friend. I want to believe that bright cities by the sea exist, untouched by the horrors of war. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe if enough of us believe, like Kiki, we, too, can achieve the impossible.