According to McCarthy (1999) Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) is about transition and emotional growth. Ota (2007) and Napier (2005) say that Kiki’s Delivery Service is a journey of self-discovery in a fantastical place. This coming of age story fallows a 13 year-old witch-in-training as she settles in a new town by herself and ends with letter home about how she is doing well and is happy. McCarthy (1999) calls Kiki’s “Miyazaki’s affirmation of the value of ordinary humanity and everyday life” (p. 157). And it is, for one hour and forty-two minutes the audience watches as Kiki finds a home, gets situated in a new town, and works. Ota (2007) states that Kiki’s shows that a person can find their way with a map, good instincts, and good intentions. Kiki does get lost, in life as well as on a job. But with guidance (from adults or pieces of paper), trusting in herself, and her good faith she over comes all the obstacles she meets. As well as a coming of age story Kiki’s “explores the desire to be different through witchcraft (Odell and Le Blanc, 2009, p. 80). Kiki flies on a broom and lets the people of Koriko know she is a witch, even when it makes her unpopular with the girls her age in town. It took almost 10 years for Kiki’s Delivery Service to arrive in the in USA, when it was finally released in 1998 it was well received, by young and old alike.
According to Odell and Le Blanc (2009) Kiki’s is a “children’s film made for adults” (p. 81). McCarthy (1999) calls Kiki’s “a film for young girls” (p. 140). For adults or children the film was based on the children’s book by Eiko Kadono. Both the film and the book follow Kiki’s first steps to witch-hood (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). As a coming of age story there is a lot about responsibility, but it is also magical, with Kiki’s ability to flying and a talking cat; realism mixed with fantasy is a Miyazaki staple. Miyazaki added monetary issues (money and survival are linked, adding reality to Kiki’s situation) and Kiki’s loss of flight in the film to make the story more exciting and better suited for the screen (Napier, 2005). The writer, Kadono, did not like the changes Miyazaki made to her story and almost pulled the plug on the film, but somehow Miyazaki convinced her to let him continue with the project (McCarthy, 1999).
Kiki’s Delivery Service showcases a number of strong women. “Effervescent and eager witch-in-waiting” (p. 80) is how Odell and Le Blanc (2009) describe Kiki. Kiki, a 13-year-old witch in training, who cannot wait to find her own town and become a witch, is the protagonist of the film. She hurriedly packs her bags and talks excitedly to her parents and cat the day she decides to leave. Throughout the film Kiki is generally smiling and happy. According to Napier (2005) Kiki has imagination, is brave, believes in herself, is self-reliant and loving. Kiki shows bravery many times, the first is when she leaves her home to find a new home. An example of Kiki’s self-reliance would starting her own business or living on her own. When Kiki loses a present (toy cat), she is delivering she begs Jiji to pretend to be the preset, until she can find the actual preset, showing imagination. When Kiki is with her father in her room before she goes she asks him to pick her up like he used to, at the end they hug, this interaction with her father shows Kiki as loving. And according to McCarthy (1999) Kiki is friendly, outgoing, kind-hearted, good mannered, determined and courageous. When she interrupts her mother and an old woman she asks the old woman to excuse her, a nice example of her good manners. In the first then minutes while Kiki is flying she sees another witch and flies over to greet her and start a conversation, showing that she is both outgoing and friendly. When Tombo and the dirigible are about to crash Kiki sits on a broom she stole, concentrates and wills herself to fly again. It is not a smooth take off or flight, but with determination and courage she is able to save Tombo. Napier (2005) states that Kiki overcomes many obstacles on own. She sets up own business and gets home at the age of 13, which is odd in any culture. She regains her ability to fly. And she learns how to fit in, in a new town when she is very different. All of these obstacles help turn her into a strong and mature young woman. Odell and Le Blanc (2009) call Kiki a “vibrant heroine” with magical powers (p. 80). At the end of Kiki’s Delivery Service Kiki saves the town by flying (her magical power) to the rescue, making her Tombo and the town’s hero.
According to Odell and Le Blanc (2009) there are a number of strong female role models that help Kiki become a strong woman. “Osono is a good business woman” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 83), while pregnant with her first child she and her husband own and run a successful bakery in town. According to McCarthy (1999) Osono is warm and kind-hearted, maternal, baker. When Kiki mentions that she has no place to stay Osono offers her a room behind her shop. Like Kiki Osono smiles a lot, and laughs, showing her warm and kind nature. When Kiki falls ill or is upset, Osono feeds her and talks to her, offer kind and encouraging words. According to Napier (2005) Ursula is the role model of modern woman. Ursula “is independent and determined” and teaches Kiki “to be true to herself and to understand her limitations” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 83). Ursula lives alone in a cabin in the woods, coming into town when she needs food or painting supplies, this shows her as very independent. While Kiki is visiting Ursula she learns that Ursula knew what she wanted to be when she was Kiki’s age. Ursula mentions how she even fell asleep while painting, showing her determination to be an artist. During that stay Ursula mentions not being able to paint and how she needed to find her own inspiration in order to be able to paint again. Ursula tied it to Kiki’s inability to fly to her painting struggle, and encouraged Kiki to take a break and give it (flying) time to come back to her. Kiki’s visit with Ursula lifted her spirits and Kiki’s exuberance for life and talent of flying came back.
Flight is a huge motif in Kiki’s Delivery Service; it also ties directly into the theme of the film. Kiki’s major talent as a witch is flying on her broomstick (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009), so she opens up an air delivery service to help people (Ota, 2007; Napier 2005). According to Napier (2005) flying, for Kiki, is based on confidence and competence. When Kiki loses confidence in herself she loses her ability to fly. When she regains her confidence (after a much-needed boost from Ursula) in herself she is able to fly again. Throughout the film Kiki is seen on her broomstick, she passes clouds and birds, sometimes a plane flies by her in the background. There are other flying machines in the film. Tombo, a bespectacled young boy and a friend of Kiki’s, greatest desire is to fly (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009). Tombo’s desire is so great that he builds and attempts to fly on a modified bike. Tombo and Kiki do manage to get the bike to fly, but they crash and Tombo’s attention turns to the dirigible that arrives in Koriko. The dirigible’s name is “The Spirit of Hope”, which lets the audience know that flight, in this film, equals hope. Flight not only equals hope it equals freedom and a different perspective. Kiki’s “ability to fly gives her freedom to go wherever she will and see the world from a unique viewpoint” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 145). Flight allowed Kiki to leave her home and brought her to a new place, just as the dirigible can take people from one place to another, providing freedom to explore the world and the ability to see new sights.
Anthropomorphism, Zoomorphism, and Metamorphosis came in to Miyazaki’s works in the early to mid-1980s. Sherlock Hound a TV show Miyazaki directed in 1984 and 1985 featured animals that behaved and talked like humans. This TV show marked the beginning of Anthropomorphism in Miyazaki’s works. Jiji is Kiki’s “talkative and opinionated black cat” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 80). The fact that Kiki’s cat can talk makes him anthropomorphic, seeing as speech is commonly seen as a human trait. Jiji can talk because he has been given the ability, so as to be a better companion to Kiki. When Jiji talks he typically makes sarcastic or witty remarks. When Kiki remakes on the size of the ocean Jiji lackadaisically says ‘just a puddle to me’. Along with his witty banter Jiji has very expressive eyes. When Kiki forces Jiji to pretend to be a stuffed toy cat his eyes convey anxiety as they grow wide. During the film Jiji loses ability to speak when he starts dating a normal cat. This loss of speech is tied to the separation Kiki and Jiji undergo as they lead their own lives in the town of Koriko. Jiji starts the film as practical, ironic, wise-cracking cat always at Kiki’s side. But he becomes a speechless, father doing his own thing (McCarthy, 1999). Miyazaki’s trend towards anthropomorphism would continue to grow as his career progressed, and he would soon add zoomorphism and metamorphosis to his repertoire.
Kiki’s most certainly has a western influence. According to McCarthy (1999) Miyazaki went back to Sweden before the production took place in order to take pictures, which he would use to model the town of Koriko after. Koriko’s main inspiration was Stockholm, Sweden; but there are elements of many other European cities in Koriko as well (McCarthy, 1999). The town of Koriko where Kiki settles in is very European looking (Napier, 2005). It has large squares; there are many parks; the public buildings are large and dignified; there are small, winding, cobbled side streets; and the outskirts of town are home to a quiet residential areas that is surrounded by greenery (McCarthy, 1999). There is also a tall, white clock tower at the center of town, which drew Kiki to the seaside town Koriko. The clock tower and seaside town harkens back to Miyazaki’s first seaside town in The Castle of Cagliostro, and will be seen again. Napier (2005) also calls Kiki’s western because the story is like that of a western fairy tale; the story is about a witch and her black cat. Ota (2007) calls the town a pastiche: with its 1960s tower blocks, 18th C villas, square townhouses, 1940’s cars, and the residents black and white TVs.
Though the town of Koriko is “set in a European town of indeterminate location” Kiki’s Delivery Service is “resolutely Japanese in its execution” (Odell & Le Blanc, 2009, p. 84). One of the biggest Japanese influences in the film is Kiki herself; “Kiki is always very polite and respectful, bowing and using honorific language to her elders” (Odell & LeBlanc, 2009, p. 82). When Kiki first gets home she bows to the old woman, who is sitting with her mother and excuses herself for the interruption. When Kiki first meets the two old women she bows to them and is again very polite and helpful; she gets wood for them, changes light-bulbs, and starts the old-fashioned oven. The fish pie that Kiki and the old women make is also Japanese in origin. Though Kiki’s is a very global film it is still clearly created by a Japanese director, the characters are polite, they honor their elders, and they bow to one another.
The environmental theme is lacking in this film, however nature is not ignored. The film opens with a shot of the rolling hills, sky, and water; then closes in on Kiki on her back looking at the sky. Ursula lives in the woods, with the crows and the trees. And Kiki is seen flying over the beautiful countryside on more than one occasion. These nature shots create a sense of peace and harmony that can be lost in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Studio Ghibli films are hand-crafted works of art (Odell & LeBlanc, 2009) and Kiki’s Delivery Service is no exception. Kiki’s dress, though supposedly black, has hints of purple and grey, giving the dress texture, as a painter would do. The grass on the hills is varying shades of greens and yellows giving it texture and making it move. The town of Koriko is picturesque seaside town, with its mostly red roofs and the clock tower in the center. The film has a very summery color palette; there are lots of greens and blues, accented by reds and yellows. Real modern art was brought into this film too. Ursula’s final painting (with a log house, the woods, the night sky, a horse and a face) was in fact a painting done by challenged students in Japan, it was touched up an artist at the studio and Miyazaki Kiki’s face (McCarthy, 1999). Putting a painting in a hand-crafted film helps instill Miyazaki’s love of art in his audience.