Last Monday, I sat on the hardwood floor of my apartment, leering at the white cardboard box in front of me. The box, which contained a disassembled nightstand from IKEA, had been sitting under my bed for weeks. And one night after getting home from work abnormally early (before 8 p.m.), I did the adult thing – I put a load of laundry in the wash, ordered a pizza from Dominos, dragged the box out from under my bed, and put on “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”
“Kiki’s Delivery Service,” or Majo no Takkyūbin, was a 1989 release from Studio Ghibli about a young witch, Kiki, who leaves home with her talking cat companion Jiji on her 13th birthday, part of a custom where a young witch must be apart from her family for a year and find another town to live and use her special ability in. Kiki’s ability of flight seems like an ordinary witch power, but she finds that in her new seaside town she is able to use it as a delivery girl for a bakery. But her journey to using her talent doesn’t come without obstacles. After one delivery goes sour, she seems to lose her powers. She can no longer fly or understand Jiji and becomes deeply depressed before finally regaining her confidence in herself and her abilities.
And though the audience for this film is around Kiki’s age – 13 to 18 – there’s a special place that this movie holds in my heart, and when I was around Kiki’s age and watching, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. The film was beautiful, sure, but all of Miyazaki’s creations looked gorgeous. In the end, I put the film down for a while, not really watching it when I went in college.
But then I graduated. Then everyone started using the word “adult,” and not as a punch line. Because there’s something vastly different about being on your own outside university walls. I can definitely say that if I came out to California by myself and not moved in with my husband right when I got here, the world would be absolutely terrifying. I was extremely lucky to have a husband who was a year ahead of me and had time to go apartment hunting while I was finishing up my degree. But that still didn’t mean that I wasn’t a little shell shocked when I got out West and was confronted with student loans, rent, an impending MFA program I needed to prepare for (read: future student loans), and finding a full-time job that would hopefully throw health insurance my way. The need to look at myself and ask, “What is an adult? Am I doing this right?” was a daily pressure.
There were days when I felt so very adult, as though I had checked off items on a list someone had made a long time ago – go to work, do the laundry, make dinner, write the rent check, water the plants. Success. And then there were some days when I definitely missed the list altogether – get to work late, turn shirt inside out to make it wearable, eat ketchup sandwiches and beer at three a.m., forget the rent check until you’re slipping it under your (extremely forgiving) landlady’s door at midnight, and the plants have become an exemplary picture of life – brown withering husks. Failure. And this leads to reclining on the couch, eating cookie dough ice cream right from the tub and watching it dribble onto said unwashed shirt that can’t be turned inside-out anymore. But enough about my week.
There are even days, I kid you not, when I check off all the things and still look at myself in the mirror and feel like I’m just pretending to be an adult — playing dress-up. And this doesn’t even count the problems that arise when I wonder what it looks like to be an adult writer – the two things feel like forces in constant opposition – and there have been plenty of days when I felt neither adult nor writer (see previous cookie dough incident).
And that’s when “Kiki’s Delivery Service” started to mean a lot to me. There’s something about watching a young female protagonist’s quest to try and find her place in the world that makes you feel a little better about your own. It also makes you feel a lot better when your IKEA nightstand ends up wobbling, trust me. Because, the truth of the matter (in my case at least) is that I will never be adult enough for my own expectations, there will always be days where I doubt the ability I’ve been given, and I will kill many, many plants. But in learning from those days, learning to trust my abilities and connect with others around me in the same way Kiki does, helps inspire growth and might even turn me into a person who can be depended upon. An adult, if you will.
But don’t just take it from me. This is what Miyazaki had to say about this film in his book, Starting Point, during the pitching stages:
“The true “independence” girls must now confront involves the far more difficult task of discovering and expressing their own talents…
When making this story into a movie, however, we believe we will have to make some slight changes. It is heartwarming to see Kiki develop her talents in such a wonderful way, but many of our modern city girls have developed a more complicated psychology. For too many, the struggle to break through the barriers to independence has become extremely difficult, precisely because they feel they have never been blessed with anything in the first place…
The image that first came to mind was that of a young girl flying through the night sky over a city. There would be lots of sparkling lights below, but these lights would not warmly welcome her…The scene would therefore symbolize the solitude of flying alone. To be able to fly through means to be liberated from the ground, but liberation can come with insecurity and loneliness…
In our film version, Kiki’s magic is something that all real girls possess — limited abilities that merely hint at some sort of talent. We intend to provide a happy ending to our film We are fully aware that this ending to our film — when Kiki flies over a city again, she feels a strong bond with the people living below, and relishes her newfound sense of self. We are fully aware that this ending must be more than a mere expression of hope, and that we must also create a realistic and convincing film.”
And he’s right. The journey to adulthood is weird, and bumpy, but it’s definitely a ride that deserves to be enjoyed, just like this great film. So, if you haven’t seen “Kiki’s Delivery Service” before, give it a go.
And maybe leave the IKEA furniture out of it for now. Baby steps.