“Studio Ghibli Forever: An Initiation” is a series in which Jordan Brooks, having no experience with the animation house, seeks to discover the basis for the worldwide phenomenon that is Ghibli. The international theatrical retrospective of some of Ghibli’s most beloved features serves as the perfect introduction to the studio giant, and will hopefully afford fans and newcomers alike a chance to see these monumental films as originally intended.
An inspiring tale of high-flying adolescent merriment underpinned by the backward-facing architecture of a developing Japan’s reconciliation with its own culturally-rich past, Kiki’s Delivery Service comes across as Ghibli-lite. The silliness of a wayward witch finding her place in life can only ever hope to recall a fraction of the dire empathy felt towards Grave of the Fireflies‘s impoverished orphans, and with a jaunty (and almost overly-enjoyable) orchestral-pop score, along with Kiki’s undeniable cuteness, Hayao Miyazaki and his team created a palate-cleansing follow-up to their double-bill of childhood woe, where life’s only bummer is growing up.
Kiki was born into a family of witches, and as such, tradition dictates that she should leave home by the light of the full moon on her 13th birthday. Bringing along only a radio, her trusty broom and an anthropomorphic black cat named Jiji, the teenage witch sets off tentatively into the world. Finding that witch culture is dying off like many of Japan’s many other cultural traditions (and even more quickly in large towns like her chosen settlement of Koriko), Kiki finds that her abilities annoy as much as they amaze, and that, perhaps, being alone at 13 was not the best idea.
As an adult, the magic of a young girl flying free with a talking cat, and with no authority figures in sight, was largely lost and replaced with an allegory of the many follies of youth. I was, of course, forced to reckon with the inner little boy who would have loved stealing a broom from the garage and utilizing his little sister’s natural, cat-like sarcasm to run around the house screaming about spells, but Ghibli’s ability to speak to the more “seasoned” segment of the audience is what caught my attention here. Watching the older citizens of Koriko reminisce when seeing a witch alongside the exasperated joy on the faces of children reminds one of why some traditions are so important to cultures around the world. Proud moments of the past have the power to unite a society and strip it of the aloof individualism city life has imposed upon them. Kiki’s magical abilities are so singular in the existence of these people that they are forced to come together in order to fully experience her gift.
Kiki’s Delivery Service makes it hard not to see Miyazaki (and novel writer Eiko Kadono) as a pair of grumpy old people rubbing the impetuousness of youth in their audience’s faces. From the brash teens that loudly strut down sidewalks to the disrespect some are shown to have for their elders (and even to Kiki’s own foolhardy positivity), the controllers of this narrative need viewers to know that wisdom can only come from age. Pitting the rural (and therefore more traditional) Kiki against her new-age urban counterparts creates a palpable rift between the “new” and the “old” Japan while fully recognizing that only through a reconciliation can lasting happiness be achieved.
A charming and whimsical fairy tale about a young, boisterous teen, Kiki’s Delivery Service captures the imaginations of young viewers while imploring the older among them to let common sense go in order to enjoy the pop music and irrefutable heart. Hoping not to hinder the inevitable forward progress of society, this Studio Ghibli gem only asks of us that with each step forward, we reflect on the past, and only take that step with the confidence and hope it deserves.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinephile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.