Studio Ghibli films are loved so much because they show the beauty of the simplicity of life. Their deeper messages about forgiveness, seeing the best in others (and ourselves), personal growth, and the complexity of human nature are just a few of the things that resonate with each one of us. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, we follow a thirteen-year-old witch on her first year away from home. Accompanied only by her cat, she has to brave the world on her own as part of her training. She goes through many ups and downs during this whimsical film, and it’s one full of suspense, slice-of-life adventures, and expertly crafted bread that will make every viewer drool.
Even on the surface, this film is beautiful, with its intricate artwork, moving soundtrack, and relatable characters we want to root for. Beneath the surface, however, we find even more beauty, as we follow a young girl entering her teen years as she figures out who she is. Sometimes we watch the film for the heart-warming story and the relaxing vibes it gives us, without even realizing just how true it is in our own lives and how it can relate to each one of us.
Not only does Kiki’s Delivery Service teach us all about what it’s like to grow into adolescence, it also shows us what it’s like to become an adult. If anything, it may even teach us more about coming into adulthood than it does adolescence.
So, what can Kiki’s Delivery Service teach us about ourselves?
In this film, Kiki has to find her place in the world. She has to figure out what she’s good at, what she can use her skills for, and learn how to make a living. She has to work two jobs in a one-room attic while figuring out who she is. The only skill she feels she’s good at is flying, which may seem like a standard skill for a witch. For instance, the witch she runs into on her first night away from home does fortune telling as her skill (while obviously also being able to fly, as they’re flying while they’re talking). Kiki ponders what her own skill could be once talking to this fellow witch-in-training, and once she gets to the big city she moves into, she has to quickly think of a skill to focus on.
As the story progresses, Kiki decides that flying is her best option at making a career as a witch. She begins delivering parcels to people and getting to know the residents of this seaside town. At first, flying may be a placeholder job for Kiki, but throughout the film we see that flying is actually a huge asset that the young witch has that is unique in its own right. She is able to help the people in this town because they’ve never had anyone with this skill helping them before (at least the current residents). Maybe at first Kiki finds this mundane, but the more she does it, the more it grows on her as part of her identity, which is why losing the ease to fly, later on in the film, throws her off so badly (but more on this later).
Life isn’t as black and white as we sometimes think
By the end of the film, the skills Kiki ends up obtaining are far greater than she even realizes. Even as the audience, we may focus on the fact that her witch skill ended up being flying. While this is obviously correct, it isn’t the whole answer. The skills Kiki actually ends up learning is self-confidence, learning what motivates her, and learning how to focus her passions into something she enjoys and something that makes her feel good (such as helping other people). In the case of the elderly woman Kiki helps deliver a herring pie for, she offers to help around the house while they wait for the pie to cook. She also doesn’t give up when the old woman initially says they can’t make the pie because her oven is broken.
Kiki has to go through the emotions we all do as we get older and realize life isn’t as black and white as we may have first thought. After Kiki helps the old woman bake a pie, the young granddaughter it’s for is ungrateful and rude to Kiki. The girl slanders her grandmother’s cooking and shuts the door in Kiki’s face before the young witch can even process it. After going through this and sacrificing her own comfort and time, flying through the rain and running late for her party, Kiki isn’t up for putting herself out there anymore. So, instead of going to her friend Tombo’s party, she goes home and to bed instead.
Whether in adolescence or adulthood, we see ourselves in Kiki
Over the course of the film, Kiki learns that it’s okay to take care of herself and be taken care of. Shortly after this incident in the rain, the big stumbling block in the film appears: Kiki discovers she can’t understand Jiji anymore and she isn’t able to fly. She has no idea what to do and she’s terrified of losing her powers altogether. She accidentally breaks her mother’s broom while trying to fly and then falls into a deeper pit of despair when she thinks that if she can’t use her powers as a witch, she’s “lost everything.”
During this particular point in the film, we can see ourselves at different points of our lives. Whether we think of it in regards to our adolescence or adulthood, we can see ourselves in Kiki’s shoes, whether it’s having writer’s block, losing a comfortable path in life, or going through something that leads us to making important course-changing decisions in our lives, we see ourselves in Kiki. She is faced with an enormous road block that may turn into a crossroads in her life, something each one of us faces at one point or another.
She experiences something that can be interpreted in different ways for different people. For writers and artists, Kiki’s struggle to get through this rut in magic can be seen in their own lives, falling short of expectations or feeling like they’ve lost their skills (and the fearful possibility of their skills never coming back again). For athletes, Kiki’s magic can be substituted for performance levels. No matter who we are, Kiki losing herself, finding her motivation, and getting through this rut is all of us. What do we want to do with our lives? What gives us feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment?
Kiki’s Delivery Service shows more than the whimsy of a coming-of-age witch
Kiki going through this pivotal crisis in Kiki’s Delivery Service is why the film can show us more than the whimsy of a coming-of-age witch in a big town. This struggle Kiki goes through reflects what it feels like to work through anxiety in the midst of failure–what it’s like figuring out who we are and what gives us our motivation in our lives. This could also reflect our general unease when things aren’t going the way we’d hoped for or expected, and figuring out how to navigate that. Kiki figuring out how to essentially become a witch again, or how to get through the rut in her skillset, is one of the reasons this film is so powerful.
At different times in our lives, we are all Kiki. We go through life figuring things out as we go, adapting as best we can, and then are sometimes hit with no motivation or feeling like all hope is lost. The beauty, though, is that she allows herself to step back, learn from her friends (particularly Ursula, her artist friend), and wonder what’s next. Soon enough, Kiki finds a reason to try again–and a motivation to succeed. When she sees her friend, Tombo, about to die as he hangs off a blimp in their city, Kiki knows she is the only one who can save him.
The answer is to simply keep going
Kiki saving Tombo can be seen in many ways as well. To us, this could be seen as the motivation it takes us to get through our talent or self fulfillment-related struggles, or our mental health struggles. It could be the “okay, well, I have to just keep writing and eventually things will get back to normal” or it could really be a life or death situation. We can interpret Kiki losing her powers and finding herself to be struggling with mental health issues and losing our sense of self and happiness and not knowing what to do to keep going.
The answer to this is often to simply keep going and keep trying (and obviously seeking medical and professional help when needed, in the case of mental health struggles). The “saving Tombo” in this interpretation depends on the person. It could be “I want to find meaning and happiness because __,” or it could be the decision to make a necessary change that you know will make you happy. This interpretation is up to the individual, but what we can learn from Kiki’s story is that she did it. She flew. She found her motivation–her life-or-death motivation (if interpreted this way) and she flew. Everyone was safe, and she got through her struggles, and everyone made it out alive.
Kiki made it out okay in the end, and she found that her powers were there all along. They were just deep within herself where she couldn’t reach them as easily as she once had. She found that she just needed to take a step back and listen to herself, to clear her head, and see what she needed to do to keep going and find herself and her powers again.
Helping others and creating great change in the world
Her painter friend in the forest, Ursula, taught her this in the film. She told her of times when she struggled as an artist and that it had seemed like she’d never paint well again. Ursula learned to let herself relax, “doze off at noon,” and then eventually was able to land back on her feet again. She gives Kiki the comfort to know she is not alone and that there is hope and that she just needed to find what her motivation was. Kiki had to ask herself “Why do I fly?” The answer was ultimately what her skills ended up being in the end: helping others and creating great change in the world, however small it may have seemed to her at the time.
When thinking of witch skills, one may not find “helping others” as a cool skill, but in actuality, it’s the most fulfilling skill any of us can have. Being kind and helpful and using the skills that we are good at to help other people is something that seems small but actually creates huge waves in humanity. Some may find it small or meaningless, but it’s far from that. Using our talents to help others is how we all get through this together, and it’s how we can get through our own ruts while pulling people from theirs. Kiki’s skills as a witch can be seen as our own talents. This story teaches us how using what fulfills us–these talents which we possess–helps create a thriving community.
Kiki’s Delivery Service shows the whimsy and challenges of the real world
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a phenomenal film that teaches us so much about life and ourselves. We can interpret it in many different ways, as mentioned in this article. It can teach us about getting through tough times through friends and finding ourselves, or through learning to get through our creative ruts. It can teach us about knowing it’s okay to admit it’s hard to grow up, and it can show us we’re not alone when we find ourselves in a new city or when we’re feeling so small, not knowing where to go or what to do.
The beauty in this film is that we can find ourselves in Kiki in many different ways. The magical elements help by being a good substitute for this. We may even find ourselves watching the film over and over again and finding new things that resonate with us. As with many Studio Ghibli films, Kiki’s Delivery Service shows us both the whimsy and challenges of the real world through magic and adventure.