Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) IMDb

Creators

Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Categorization

Coming of age, fantasy.

Subject

In a deeply peaceful alternate Europe, a witch is going to spend a traditional year away from her friends and parents because she’s recently turned thirteen. She finds a town by the ocean but the people there aren’t very friendly, and she doesn’t have any special skills. The girl begins to worry about her appearance. A pragmatic artist helps her deal with the mood swings.

Commentary

Despite her age, Kiki goes out of her way to follow an outdated custom and the traditional European notions of witchcraft. For example, witches here fly on their brooms, a traditional woman’s tool. In real life it was used for unpaid work. In sexist European myths, the broom suggests a phallus, mocking and stigmatizing the women who were burned as witches. There is no attempt here to question the symbol. The effects of magic also include a familiar, doubling as a Disneyesque funny animal sidekick.

Despite the obvious effectiveness of magic, society looks much as it does in real life, except for the freewheeling mixture of alphabets, spoken languages and architectural styles. Supposedly, this is a Europe where the great wars never happened. Why then, without a European Recovery Program, is the radio chatter American? There is no comment on this, no hint of what happened. Did the entrenched racism and nationalism just fade away spontaneously? Have the people somehow learned to embrace those horrors without negative effects, the way witches here ride phallic brooms without being burned?

The result is a creeping sense of internal inconsistency. This extends even to character and colour design. That thing in Kiki’s hair makes her look like a moekko stereotype, and the choice of showing her black hair as black but her black dress as purple is a kind of formalism likewise running counter to realism. The whole film reads like whimsical “magical realism” and denial of human nature, which in itself is internally inconsistent with the things I like about the movie, such as the heroine getting knocked out by a common cold for a day.

The story is based on a book, like Miyazaki’s earlier work on World Masterpiece Theater. Perhaps Miyazaki didn’t have the power or the courage to depart from it into his usual, more mature mode of fantasy. Perhaps he assumed that meticulous worldbuilding would be wasted on a movie for girls.

References here: “Don't mention the war!”, Ghibli movie titles, “On Your Mark” (1995), Spirited Away (2001), Someday’s Dreamers (2003), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Tales from Earthsea (2006), “Kitten Witch” (2016), Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017).

Ghibli Japanese production animation fiction moving picture