Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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Food: One of the best summer restaurant/bar’s in downtown Manhattan’s financial district to go to when the weather is warm is Pier A Harbor House. It is a large space with an outdoor area that overlooks the water and has a view of the Statue of Liberty. The have typical American bistro, but is also a popular spot to get seafood. Sitting outside, I was with a group that ordered a pitcher of the summer ale – which was a decent, easy choice. I decided to order the clam chowder to eat and a selection of East Coast oysters. I have to say that the oysters were not great, and next time I will make a point to try the West Coast option. However, the clam chowder absolutely hit the spot.

Film: Studio Ghibli animated films has to be one of the most fulfilling production companies to work through because it seems like there is not a bad one in the bunch. This week I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. This is the story of a young witch, who on her 13th year is expected to take a gap year to leave home, explore a new city and learn new skills. It is a coming-of-age tale with a twist, based off a children’s novel of the same title written by Eiko Kadono and published in 1985.

The story begins at Kiki’s childhood home where she is preparing to leave home. She is optimistic and fearless, despite her wobbly flying skills and lack of experience. Kiki decides to bring along her best friend, a small black talking cat with a sarcastic sense of humor, Jiji. She enters a new city and quickly decides that this is the city in which she would like to stay. She comes across a sweet local baker named Osono, who has a spare guest room, and as long as Kiki is willing to help out around her store, she can stay for free. Kiki exuberantly agrees to this arrangement. She soon realizes her ability to deliver packages much more efficiently than others due to her magical power of flying on her broom.

This story was so well-portrayed, it actually reminded me of my own experience traveling on my own and living in a new place. The town in Kiki’s Delivery Service may not actually exist, but it emulates a small Parisian or countryside Italian village by the sea. I studied abroad in a small town of Orvieto, Italy and lived with a host, a ballerina named Francesca. Also living with us was a middle aged woman named Bonnie who was a painter. I so vividly remember the excitement and hopefulness I felt at the start of my adventure – taking everything in, wanting to take on the world. I loved the way that experiences like this push you to befriend people who you may not normally have the opportunity to get to know. I also remember the painful moments of loneliness and isolation when the initial exhilaration wears thin.

Kiki’s Delivery Service reveals this quiet moments of sadness so well. There is a scene where Kiki returns to her bedroom midday after a discouraging day of work. She flickers on the radio, and after less than a couple seconds turns it off. She sighs deeply. She wanders to the bed and plops down face first to sleep. Sadness can feel like restlessness – of being unsure what to do to feel better, of being too exhausted to conjure up any positivity.

On one of her adventures she encounters a free spirited woman named Ursula, who lives in the woods and paints, her dearest friends being a flock of crows. When Kiki is at her lowest, it is Ursula who becomes a source of comfort and refuge. She delivers one of the most wonderful lines of the film when Kiki is no longer able to use her magic:

“Then stop trying. Take long walks. Look at the scenery. Doze off at noon. Don’t even think about flying. And then, pretty soon you’ll be flying again.”

Though the film includes the whimsical aspect of Kiki’s magical powers, her witchy-ness is treated like any other accessory to a person. It is not relied on as a crutch for the plot to become interesting. The story is interesting on it’s own in a practical way. Kiki must learn to have confidence in herself and to work through her sadness, and this film does such a beautiful job of a young girl learning to do these things on her own and discover her own independence.

There are many subtle and awe-inspiring moments in the film, but a choice that stands out is how Miyazaki creates an entirely differently styled art piece to depict Ursula’s painting. The film takes a few seconds to zoom in and explore the painting she has been working on, and the detail is mesmerizing. The whole film is gorgeously rendered and full of charming characters – Ursula and Osono, a young boy Tombo, an elderly client of Kiki’s… it is all relaxing and simple and quiet and meaningful. I imagine returning to this movie time and time again when I am in need of consolation, like a favorite food or a warm blanket.

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