Pick up your broomsticks and fly with me into another instalment of Miyazaki March where today we approach Hayao Miyazaki’s animation oeuvre with taking a closer look at Majo no Takkyūbin, better known as Kiki’s Delivery Service. Other entries for Miyazaki March on Me, all over the place can be found HERE in the directory post.
Kiki’s Delivery Service was released to Japanese theaters in 1989. It is based upon a children’s book by the Japanese author Eiko Kadono, but rather loosely, incorporating elements and a plot not present in the more episodic source material. For a short time, the project was in danger of being shelved, due to Mrs. Kadono being unhappy with the changes made, but she eventually came around. The movie proved to be successful in both Japan and outside of it, marking the first release under the Ghibli-Disney cooperation for international distribution, which led to some minor changes in dialogue and musical score. The movie was also adapted into a musical in 1993 in Japan, and while that sounds like a not so great thing to my ears, I can still get the appeal of it, because after all the song of the closing credits “Yasashisa ni tsutsumareta nara” ranks firmly among the top 3 of my favorite Japanese songs, cause it can. And cause I can. And cause it’s cool. And you might find it somewhere on the net (cause I couldn’t).
Kiki’s Delivery Service is first and foremost a coming of age tale. It revolves around Kiki, who as a young witch at the age of 13 sets out to make it on her own in the big wide world. The narrative follows her to a new city, to new friendships, to new responsibilities and hardships and to inevitable changes. And it does so wonderfully. I would not rank Kiki’s Delivery Service as one of my favorite Miyazaki pictures, but I am always pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up as a movie, given that from description alone it doesn’t sound like much. But much like My Neighbor Totoro the biggest strength of the movie is the realism with which it presents its characters. Kiki’s struggles as a teenage girl are interesting because they are believable and because Kiki as a character is reacting believably to them. It is a joy to see how she is excited, how she loves but misses her parents, how she is afraid of the city and unsure of how friendships form and evolve, how she worries about her business taking off and how she is homesick. In all of this we get to see a character embodying traits and actions that we have observed in others around us (or even ourselves) and thus recognize the significance of what is being said and can appreciate the way it is being said. If you disagree, you can replace all the we’s in the previous sentences with and I, because I don’t want to force you to think like me (but really: you totally should).
With Kiki’s Delivery Service we once more have a movie full of loveable characters. There is no villain and no threat, there is just self-doubt and homesickness to battle. The parents are adorable, Osono and her husband in the bakery are super-cute in their opposites attract kinda way, Tombo is a hilariously awesome boy with the right amount of curiousity, humour and persistence, and Ursula is an independent spirit just waiting to be asked how to roll with life. On top of that we have city by the sea that is both full of life and full of charm, filled with people who embrace the arrival of a new witch in training and enjoy their (ridiculously fantastic) gardens out in the back towards the seaside on terraces. I mean, seriously, can someone please get me a house like the one that the Gutiokipanja bakery is situated in? Yes? Thank you.
Presenting some things simply as a given really works well for the movie. The whole concept of a young witch of 13 setting out on her own and just finding a village where people will accept her and integrate her is pretty alien to most of us. But in the context of the film it is just how things work and everybody knows and thus we know and thus it never becomes an issue. I love how elegantly the movie flows from presenting the concept, which leaves me with a question mark in my head, to just have me swallow it cause it seems so perfectly fitting for the whole set-up. It helps, of course, that the whole thing takes place in the now widely familiar Miyazaki fantasia world, where countries look like Europe somewhen between 1900 and now, with magic and technology coexisting and fashion doing what it’s happening to do. Just in case you’re interested and happen to stay in Frankfurt am Main in Germany: There is a café called Iimori that looks like it’s taken right out of a Miyazaki movie and is totally worth a visit.
Coming of age and alla that I guess we have to talk the talk here, folks. Girl is 13. Eh, adolescence? Yes, dear audience, we need to address menstruation. Not that there is anything wrong with addressing menstruation, but I better admit right away that my experience with menstruation and all that goes with it is, how shall we put this?, limited. And to be clear, Kiki here in the movie does not hit puberty and does not have her first period. But being the overanalyzing brat that I am, I of course cannot help but read the whole menstruation issue into this coming of age tale of a young girl. Before you accuse me of inserting issues that are not explicitly there, let me just state, that as a critic (whoa, Alex, you define yourself as a critic now? Hear, hear.) I think it is a fruitful concept to “read” some of what is going on in the movie as a metaphor to what happens when girls start to have their period. After all, Kiki’s body reacts to all the changes in the movies, she becomes sick (ok, I know, it’s a cold), but it is also because she confides into a motherly figure that she learns to get over with not only the cold but learns to accept her new situation in general and even learns to appreciate it and become happy with and curious about it. Being the non-expert on menstruation that I am, I construct this as a metaphor for the changes that the female body at the beginning of puberty goes through and what that potentially does to a young girl’s psyche. Though that of course begs the question why I make it about menstruation then and not puberty in general. I kinda feel like I am losing my point here, so let us just discuss that in the comments, if anyone cares to contradict (or support) my theory.
Can we please talk about the cat? Or can we please talk about Sailor Moon? Or can we please talk about how the cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service looks like Luna from Sailor Moon? Ladies and Gentlemen, what is going on here? Charming, the cat, granted. But Jiji looks and acts so much like Luna from Sailor Moon that I was really surprised at first. I mean, what is this about? Was Studio Ghibli trying to cash in on Sailor Moon popularity and thus came up with an identical cat (minus the moon on the forehead)? Curious, I find it do, as Yoda probably would say, if he weren’t so far above all this shit. And while I am in general fond of the cat and fond of cat interaction, I was a little disappointed how gender stereotypical the female cat was introduced and presented in Kiki’s Delivery Service. I mean it’s a freaking cat. Does it have to look like it’s a female cat with long hair and eyelashes? Are cats that look like Jiji himself too unattractive, is that what you’re trying to say, movie? And then they have children that look like either her or him (ermh, Lady and the Tramp, anyone?). You know, genetic mixture and all, they can also look not exactly like their parents. For all gender progressiveness with Studio Ghibli in general and Kiki’s Delivery Service in particular, the whole cat love story affair seemed like a step backwards. Meow.
But that should not distract from the overall fondness I feel for the movie. If today were a Sunday and if now would be afternoon and if my mood were “blue” I would totally sit down and watch this just to get me up. Movies are the best medicine, isn’t that what they’re saying?