Kiki’s Delivery Service is my all time favourite Studio Ghibli film.
Those of you who haven’t read my content before might think this is something of a surprise… after all, not many people are on the same wavelength as me regarding this one… then again, I doubt they are with many of the things I like.
However, I believe Kiki’s delivery Service is a universally wonderful film, both in the ways it can be analysed, and in the pure entertainment value it offers. Not to mention how it resonates today, even after more than two decades. After all, that’s the mark of a great film – it being relevant in its future as it was at release. Much like in the vain of Perfect Blue.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 film directed by the one and only, Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli.
Youthful and Driven
Kiki is a thirteen-year-old witch, wanting to make her own way in the world. To step away from her parents and comfortable home life, and become an independent witch for a year. Besides her throughout this is her familiar, a chirpy and adorable black cat called Jiji. Her loving parents support her in this journey, because with being a witch, comes the task of finding yourself in the vast world – something akin to walkabout in Aboriginal cultures.
The transition into adulthood is a major theme in Kiki’s Delivery Service; not only this, but how a person deals with the issues that naturally develop during this stage of life. These being, identity, socialising, creating and managing relationships, and work, all whilst looking after yourself.
Kiki’s world is not like ours, after all it is a Ghibli film. It’s fantasy, it’s magic, it’s bright and eccentric. Yet, she feels the very things we do: The anxiety, but also excitement of leaving home for the first time, on towards places that are unknown, populated by people who are unknown. It’s here where we develop our connection to Kiki, and how we are able to see and experience the world in the ways she does.
Because, through Kiki’s eyes, everything is wonderous. From the clock-tower, to the shops, and to the geese she flies with when delivering parcels, but even more so, the people. This child-like enthusiasm is a marvel to watch. In how Kiki is able to overlook the negative things that swing her way, and always see the positive in people and the surrounding environment, no matter the situation.
It’s such a wonderful and inspiring personality trait to have – something which every person who meets her comes to know. Kiki has this indeterminable magnetism that brings out smiles and the best in all those around ger. This becomes evident as her relationships develop, and as the port of Koriko comes to love her. And in the end, comes to need her.
Relationships are integral to Kiki’s Delivery Service; naturally, Kiki’s relationships with the various people she meets on her journey into the port town of Koriko. A place she has never seen the likes of before. A place she instantly falls in love with. The town itself is beautiful, and of course Miyazaki and Ghibli do a brilliant job of representing this stunning place. From the bright panning cityscapes, to the hustle and the bustle of the markets, and outwards into the endless ocean that lay beyond.
But, what’s more important are the people of Koriko, the people Kiki comes to interact with on a daily basis. Osono is at the very heart of them; the owner of the bakery where Kiki works and stays. Without her, maybe her journey might not have got off to the start it did, maybe she might have even come to dislike the town as a whole. After all, isn’t it the people we meet who make us feel the way we do about certain places, and the iron-clad memories that are formed within them?
I’m sure Osono reminds Kiki of her mother, and no doubt she acts as a mother figure to her during the year away from home. This is important, because Kiki is still young. She might be spending a year alone, and independent, but she is still only thirteen. She still needs guidance on her independence. There are certain things that cannot be realised, nor found alone. This is something Kiki comes to see:
Others are always a factor in self-discovery. After all, it’s easier to understand personal identity when you can recognise aspects of it in people but yourself.
Tombo plays an interesting role in Kiki’s time away. At first he as seen as an annoyance, both by the audience and by Kiki – this is vital, because we are supposed to be experiencing the world directly through her, and in the exact same ways as she does. Tombo is, in a sense, a typical character of his type. That being, the semi-romantic interest… who is too persistnet, who drives Kiki away, before becoming closer. A person who is required to see things in themselves, before they can direct that attention outwards. Kiki begins to understand that first impressions aren’t everything, and after all, Tombo is a nice person, willing to put himself out for her.
I adore Ursula as a character. She’s quirky and brings that easy-going tone to Kiki’s life that is often hectic and overwhelming. The older lady, Madame manages this too, though at the opposite end of the scale, being calm and collected. Kiki connects with her on a very personal level, whilst realising there is pleasure in helping people – especially those who are in need of assistance and might not get it otherwise. Kiki has good morals, a good attitude to both life and work. It’s easy for people to see and respect this, Madame being just one of them.
On the other side of the scale we have people like Madame’s granddaughter. People who are ungrateful of both the care and effort other people put in for them. Cooking the Herring pie was a big deal for Madame and Kiki. Yet, her granddaughter saw it as nothing more than an annoyance. Here Kiki learns that not everything is appreciated, as much as she wishes they were. For a person as bright as Kiki, this dulls her mood. As she comes around to the hard-hitting truth that there will always be people who only care for themselves. This is as important as knowing there are people who are entirely selfless. It offers up perspective and value to the good.
For reference, Barsa is barking mad, and I love her!
Dreaming and Wondering…
It’s not all plain sailing for Kiki. Despite all the love and care she comes across, Kiki feels jealous. Not the killing kind of jealous, but the kind that nags at your heels. The kind that makes you wish you are something you’re not, that you have things you don’t… nor possibly ever will. We see this when she’s pandering for ‘nice clothes,’ or in general the things she cannot afford. The women of the town pass her, clothed beautifully, looking impeccable. We’ve all experienced this kind of… desire. Here Kiki is at her most relatable. She feels like a real person. A person who could exist.
This is also evident in a lot of Kiki’s social interaction, especially where Tombo is involved. She’s never met a person like Tombo, much less the people he spends time with. People that are rowdy, enjoying being young and seemingly boundless. Kiki is apprehensive of this new way of life. She’s used to a quiet life in the country with her family. There are no people like Tombo and his friends out there. She’s used to camping with her father on a weekend, not riding in an open-topped car on public roads at the ages of thirteen. It’s a shock, throwing Kiki off her feet.
After all, it’s hard to accept things you have never before seen.
Kiki loses her powers – as a witch, the worst thing that can happen. It’s a part of her identity slipping away, something that is integral to her being, an intrinsic part of who she is.
The loss of her magic is the result of stress, of too many new things happening all at once. Things that, despite Kiki’s brilliance, she’s unable to cope with efficiently. You could say losing her powers is a manifestation of the all-too-common things we often feel. That lack of motivation, that sadness creeping around the corner from time to time, feeling pressured in a world that is slow to accept mistakes. Kiki losing her power, is Kiki losing her mojo. ultimately, it’s only momentary. She overcomes it, just as she overcomes many things during her training. This is at the centre of Kiki’s Delivery Service; pushing on in the face of adversity.
Her efforts are reinforced by some time away at Ursula’s cabin. It’s a place out of the bustle of Koriko, an environment much like Kiki’s home, a place she can be comfortable with a person that is supportive. Somewhere she can talk about herself without the fear of being judged. Ursula being older, but young enough to be recognisable, provides Kiki with a massive pool of advice to draw from. Advice that eventually leads to the re-emergence of her powers. Finding who you are, and accepting it for what it is – flaws and all – is a major theme in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Something that manages to permeate through the majority of Studio Ghibli films.
A Taste of Things to Come
It’s all about experience, briefly living the things that will later become a permanent aspect of life. Being a witch, Kiki needs to be ready for the world, her ‘training’ so to speak. She needs to know, both where the dangers are, and where she can find true happiness. The kind of people to trust and love, and the kind of people to be cautious of. We all have to find this in our own time. Be it when we are young, or old.
There’s no simpler way than exposing yourself to it all at once.
Everyone experiences that ‘moment’ or sets of moments, where they realise they are no longer a child. From this point onwards, the world seems like a completely different place. Not necessarily worse, just… stranger. As if stepping from a small pond, into an ocean. From here, it takes a while for us to understand that the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed never truly goes away; no matter who, or where we are, we always have the potential to be anxious – we always have the potential to be happy. Kiki comes to understand this.
Everything must exist in balance. For you cannot have one thing, without another. Surely as a witch, this is even more important. It’s the reason why I love Kiki’s Delivery Service so much.
Kirsten Dunst also voices Kiki in the English version, which is of course a brilliant thing no matter how you look at it! She does a great job too! Like the majority of Ghibli films, the dub versions are really great!
What do you think of Kiki’s Delivery Service?
Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (follow me on Twitter, below!)