Movie Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki's Delivery ServiceInformation

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Eiko Kadono (novel), Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)
Release: 1989

Summary

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?

Review

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.

Krysta 64

14 thoughts on “Movie Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

  1. Michael J. Miller says:

    I remember watching this as a kid! Oh my gosh, I haven’t thought about this in ages. You have me intrigued to revisit the film now. I appreciate the twin struggle too, of returning to something you loved as a kid and seeing it in a new light. On the one hand, it’s so exciting to see there’s so much more to it! On the other hand, part of me can’t help but be sad at losing how I used to see it.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I do miss seeing the film simply as a fun story with a talking cat! And, honestly, I can’t help but think now that the male lead is bordering on creepy. He seems to follow Kiki around a bit. I guess I used to just see it as awkward, but now I can’t help but think, “Back away, man. It’s getting weird.” I don’t think it’s supposed to be weird, but times have changed, so.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        Hahahaha, yikes. Now I kind of want to watch it even more. Is that weird? There are certain films (‘Aladdin’ for example) that my students have asked to watch in class (like with our Islam unit) and I refuse because I don’t want to analyze them academically and see them in a different light than I remember them as a child. Obviously I’ve realized “they’ll cut off your nose if they don’t like your face / it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” is not a helpful or honest depiction of the Middle East. But I don’t want to look deeper into it then that!

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  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    I love that people are so willing to help each other in Miyazaki movies. I don’t see that in the States. I think we’re all so scared. I mean, my husband and I are sitting in a coffee shop right now. On the way in, a man said hello to us. He was sitting at the outside table (it’s completely dark) not drinking or eating anything from the cafe. My first thought was, “Don’t say hello back, he’s just going to ask for money.” I said hello back. It still scared me.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      These movies are really interesting because the “logical” part of your brain often expects bad things to happen based on the decisions the characters are making. “Oh, you moved to a random town and decided to spend the night at some random person’s house? Get ready to be murdered!” But then that’s not what happens. :p

      Honestly, that’s probably not what would happen in real life either. Most of the people in the world are not out to get me, and I probably *could* hitchhike or spend the night at some random person’s house with no problem. But, yeah, the small chance things would go wrong scares us and prevents us. (And also we now live in a society where most people wouldn’t offer you a car ride, etc. because they’re scared of YOU! Which then gets us to the point where we think it’s a social norm not to do these things, and we suspect anyone who asks for a car ride or anyone who offers you one is probably a secret ax murderer.)

      That said, I TWICE got in a car with random people who offered me a ride during college, and I’m still alive to tell the tale. I still don’t recommend it. But my college was on the top of a hill and people honestly just felt bad I was walking up this gigantic hill in terrible weather.

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      • Krysta says:

        At least twice a random man asked if I wanted a ride. I thought it was weird they would even ask, as obviously a lone woman isn’t going to get into a car with a random man. One of them even circled the street several times “because he was worried about me,” leading me to be even more afraid. Who knows. Maybe he was really concerned. However, social norms dictate that, no, I can never get into your car if I don’t know who you are! I just thought it was strange these men seemingly didn’t understand why I would decline.

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    • Krysta says:

      I’ve found that I am often the person who says hello first when passing on the street and people look at me in fear. So I’ve had to train myself into not acknowledging people. Still, I admit that when people say hello (in the dark!), I get scared, too.

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