5. Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便）
(Fan art by Pivix ID 3276674)
I’ve been writing about my newish attempt to embrace the many different Me’s inside of Me and to open my imagination to other walks of life. And while the vain part of me eagerly sops up “Snow White beauty” as an easy, self-affirming goal post, a much bigger part of me turns to Kiki from the Ghibli classic Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). Because Kiki knows how to hustle.
I know, I know, “making money” is not the usual lesson that people find in the story. Most people write about her in terms of feminist independence, fearlessness, and ability to find personal motivation (or “inspiration” in Ursula’s words). But, bear with me a little.
Kiki’s Delivery Service quietly narrates a girl’s loss and recentering of herself as part of the process of growing up. While Kiki was never the most talented witch-in-training, she opens the film bursting with excited confidence about her one discernible skill (flying) and eagerness to jump into independent life at age 13. Who could doubt her future success, seeing her leap giddily away on her broom? Who would forget that joyous sequence of Kiki soaring over the bright red roofs and seaside setting of her chosen city?
Despite a few initial setbacks, Kiki seems to be plugging forward. She finds a place to live, buys household basics, sticks to her guns in the face of Mean Girls, makes her deliveries on time, and braves the kitchen. She is even invited to a party by a local boy.
But…the grind whittles her down. She loses her spirit and self confidence…
and after a bout of illness, she forgets how to fly. The one thing she is good at (and maybe the only thing she knows how to do) is taken from her, quite suddenly and mysteriously. And having lost her magic, she forgets how to communicate with her cat Jiji – at that point, her oldest and closest friend. As if to belabor the symbolism, her mother’s broom decidedly breaks in half to signal the end of Kiki’s childhood connections.
Kiki eventually connects with a painter named Ursula and confides in her.
KIKI: Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself to find out how I did it. But I just can’t figure it out.
Ursula first says that creativity comes and goes. You can take a break, stop trying to push for it at the moment and simply take a long walk or nap. Then:
URSULA: When I was your age, I’d already decided to become an artist. I loved to paint so much. I’d paint all day until I fell asleep right at my easel. And then one day, for some reason, I just couldn’t paint anymore. I tried and tried, but nothing I did seemed any good. They were copies of paintings I’d seen somewhere before … and not very good copies either. I just felt like I’d lost my ability.
…but then I found the answer. You see, I hadn’t figured out what or why I wanted to paint. I had to discover my own style. When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you, don’t you?
KIKI: Uh-huh. We fly with our spirit.
Ursula: Trusting your spirit! Yes, yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That same spirit is what makes me paint and makes your friend bake. But we each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.
The dreaminess of Ursula, painting starry-skies and mythical animals, used to throw me off because it confused 10 year old me into thinking the goal of life was purely to find artistic inspiration. As an adult though, the scene actually reframes the brutal daily grind as a question of meaningful creativity and personal motivation.
I mean, if you really think about it, Kiki is a small business owner with a limited skill set just trying to save up to eat more than pancakes and get through the day without dealing with bad customers.
Like Sen in Spirited Away or Shizuku in Whispers of the Heart (or, hm, maybe any Ghibli film), Kiki works and she works HARD. And as an adult, I truly appreciate this.
The daily grind is hard. Making money is hard. Dealing with the arbitrariness of the day to day, from parking tickets and bad customer service and remembering to renew car insurance but missing the Fedex dude AGAIN – whatever, all of it is hard. Well, not “hard” but a hell lot harder than being a dreamy child full of ideas and putting all the eggs in the basket of your half-baked skillset (because you haven’t built up anything else). And I still think that planning + making 3 meals + snacks + cleaning up + feeding child is the most tedious and annoying part of being a responsible grownup.
Kiki reminds me that no matter what, we always need to know what motivates us because we have to work hard. We need to figure out what inspires us to get through the grind, make money, and come out okay at the end of the day. Following through the motions because society/parents/etc has set out certain expected pathways is not the same thing. What is really in your heart? And also, you need to figure that shit out on your own as well.