Studio Ghibli creates beautifully-rendered films that mix unique characters and worlds in a way that make the extraordinary seem familiar. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first Ghibli movie and therefore my first time seeing this magic in action. Kiki’s Delivery Service is no exception to this. The film has the same amount of wonder and interesting storytelling that makes the film memorable.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
How it all began
Kiki is a thirteen-year-old witch who leaves home with her talking cat companion, Jiji. In this universe, society expects witches to go off on their own to master their powers. She ended up in the sunny seaside city of Koriko where she met Tombo, a curious but well meaning boy.
The young witch came across a bakery owner, Osono, who allowed Kiki to live on her property in exchange for help with her shop. With a place to stay secured, Kiki is able to open up a service where she flies on her broom to make deliveries for customers. Unfortunately, her first delivery goes terribly wrong when she lost the toy she was supposed to drop off. On her quest to find the toy, she came across a secluded painter, Ursula.
Tombo, wanting to know more about Kiki, invited her to a party. Even though the two of them didn’t start out on stellar terms, Kiki happily accepted the offer. The same day of the party, Kiki had to make another delivery. On this trip, she met two old women, who go by Madame and Barsa in the film. When she arrived, the package that she’s supposed to deliver – a birthday cake for Madame’s granddaughter – isn’t ready yet. Instead of getting paid for doing nothing, she helped make the cake and even changed the light bulbs. At this point, it started to rain heavily and Kiki delivered a wet but intact cake. Sadly for her, the granddaughter doesn’t even want or appreciate the gesture. Kiki went home, saddened by her wasted efforts and missed party.
Tombo was still excited to be around Kiki. The two have some fun moments, taking a wild ride on Tombo’s “flying” bike. However, Kiki quickly grows frustrated being around him.
Things take a turn for the worst
Kiki began to feel unenthusiastic about her work. She stayed in bed for days, unable to will herself to do anything productive. It got to a point where Kiki could no longer understand her talking cat, hearing only meows. Kiki realized that she was losing her powers and that meant losing her business and livelihood. This saddened her but it was something she didn’t know how to deal with. Luckily, Ursula is there to give Kiki meaningful advice to steer her in the right direction.
Seeing Kiki go from a bright-eyed witch ready to start a new life to a misplaced and dismayed girl was kind of hard. At the core of everything, Kiki is a good kid and as an audience, we want her to succeed. She’s an incredibly kind character even though she has her moments. That’s what makes it hard to see her get taken advantage of in some capacities.
She’s happy about her business but doesn’t put a lot of thought into it. Kiki goes with delivery service because she’s good at flying and that was all it took. She didn’t have a set price for deliveries and kind of just accepted the money given to her off the bat. Kiki also doesn’t consider the consequences of accepting certain jobs. This made her deliveries that much harder because she ended up delivering in horrible weather conditions or lugging around packages that probably weigh more than her all by herself. No one round her gives her any real advice until she was visibly struggling.
When she first comes across Ursula, she has to clean her floors in exchange for the artist fixing the toy cat Kiki has to deliver. While this functions as a tit for tat situation, it seems that most of the work falls on Kiki’s shoulders. Later when she helps Madame with the cake, its at the expense of her own time and she ends up going above and beyond. These things aren’t necessarily bad for her to do and the goal of these people probably wasn’t to take advantage of her friendliness. However, Kiki gave so much with little return and it took a huge toll on her in the end. She also pushes back at her chances of friendship at some points.
Her story is relateable
Freedom and responsibility in the “real world”
It’s not clear if Hayao Miyazaki – the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the mind behind many of its films – could have ever predicted how Kiki’s experience is shared by so many struggling adults. This film is essentially about Kiki’s first brush with freedom and responsibility in the “real world.” Flying is Kiki’s talent and while its impressive, the society doesn’t really value the ability.
In fact, when she first arrived in the city, she almost gets arrested for flying through the streets. Nonetheless, to survive, Kiki has to find a way to monetize her powers. This turned something she loved to do into a source of so much stress to the point that she lost the ability to fly. Her powers are likened to Ursula’s ability to paint. Ursula told Kiki that she experienced something similar with her art – she had a long slump in which she was unhappy with everything she created and even started straight up copying other artists.
Ursula’s solution for Kiki is to take time to herself to heal. She reminded her that it’s important to practice self care by doing little things that would make her happy and remind her about what she loves. It’s good advice for Kiki and viewers alike.
The basis of Kiki’s story is something I’m personally experiencing and it’s a situation that many other people can see themselves in as well. It’s easy to feel incredibly overwhelmed looking for work and career opportunities. This is especially so if it’s your first time looking for employment. You know you’re talents but that doesn’t mean people appreciate them properly. To relate to Ursula’s profession, if you ask any of the tons of artist on platforms like Twitter, you’ll hear people trying to get free or heavily discounted art out of them. Many artists can’t even live solely on their art and have to look for other jobs. Like Kiki, they’re work is seen as remarkable but others may not assign it the value it deserves.
By the end, Kiki hasn’t completely resolved her issues either. In a letter to her parents, she revealed that she still has hardships but she’s knowledged that it’s okay to struggle. Even when trying to save Tombo, she kept falling off her broom or veering off-path. Like real life, her problems aren’t fixed immediately. It’s something she actively has to work at.
Wait, what about Jiji?
Jiji losing his ability to talk could be looked at in a few different ways. The first is that Jiji could never talk in the first place and the voice Kiki was hearing was just her childish subconscious. Now that Kiki has matured a little, that voice is gone. Another take is that Jiji could communicate with Kiki. However, because still hasn’t fully recovered from the strife she experienced, she can’t and may never hear Jiji again. Each of these are very bittersweet but it serves as a good way to show that Kiki shifted away from the naivete she displayed at the start of the film.
This movie, like many other Studio Ghibli movies, was beautiful to watch. Like mentioned earlier, the characters designs, setting, and plot make this movie familiar and yet unfamiliar. The core circumstances in the movie can easily be applicable to real life. Yet, the magic shown in the movie is just enough to make everything seem miraculous in some way. The stakes aren’t too high like in Howl’s Moving Castle where the backdrop is war. There’s no real villain or bad guy. The causal magic gives the movie charm.
The story and lesson was good and easily identifiable. Things definitely picked up pretty fast in the last couple of minutes. Tombo’s life or death situation seemed to barrel in out of nowhere but since it happened at the end of the film, it didn’t take away too much from the experience. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed by people that may or may not like anime as well. All in all, I’d definitely recommend watching it. It’s a well done movie that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Let us know what your favorite Studio Ghibli movie is or which one you’re most excited to see!
Featured image credit: Studio Ghibli