Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) IMDb

Creators

Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Categorization

Coming of age, fantasy. Miyazaki.

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

With Kondou’s character 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. Really weird linguistics, mixing alphabets and spoken languages in the same way it mixes architectural styles.

Miyazaki shows his traditionalism here. Despite her age, Kiki goes out of her way to follow an outdated custom, and follows the traditional European notions of witchcraft. For example, witches fly on their brooms, a traditional woman’s tool used for unpaid work in real life and to imitate a phallus in the myths. There is no attempt here to undermine the sexism of that 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. The result is a creeping sense of internal inconsistency.

Taken as a whole, the writing shows an unfortunate tendency toward wish fulfillment, where the makers simply ignore resulting problems. This is perhaps most apparent in the concept of a world where the great wars never occurred. The radio chatter is American even where there would be no European Recovery Program. There is no comment on this, no hint of what happened instead. Did the entrenched racism and nationalism just fade away spontaneously? It 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. I presume Miyazaki just didn’t have the power or the courage to depart from it into his usual, more mature mode of fantasy.

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), “Kitten Witch” (2016).

Ghibli Japanese production animation fiction moving picture