Imagine someone unfamiliar with Earth – a Martian, perhaps – comes to us and asks, “It seems that the movies of a person named Hayao Miyazaki are quite popular in your world. What is so appealing about his movies?” How would you respond? Miyazaki’s works are all prototypically interesting, the themes are deep, and the characters are captivating. However, to meet the unreasonable demand of expressing the charm that runs through all of Miyazaki’s works “in one word,” simply listing these merits does not suffice. If forced to put it “in one word,” I would, out of desperation, probably respond: It’s because a girl flies through the sky.
Many people, and probably the Martian too, may not find this answer satisfying. Hence, this is what I wish to discuss.
Why is the biggest charm of Miyazaki’s movies encapsulated in the image of a “girl flying in the sky”? This relates to the essence of the author’s work.
As you know, in Miyazaki’s films, there are repeated scenes of girls flying in the sky. Whether it’s Nausicaa from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” Sheeta from “Castle in the Sky,” or Satsuki and Mei from “My Neighbor Totoro,” the scenes where they fly in the sky provide the most cinematic exaltation and physical pleasure. However, “flying in the sky” itself is not necessarily the core part of the plot, nor the main theme of the story, and there is no specific message from the creator in it. Yet, I still think that the concept of “a girl flying in the sky” is the essence of Miyazaki’s films.
I imagine this, and it’s my personal imagination so I can’t argue if Miyazaki says “it’s wrong”: when starting a new work, the image of a “girl flying in the sky” first comes to mind for Miyazaki. He wants to precisely depict that image in motion. He spends hours, tens of hours, incessantly drawing various types of images of “a girl flying in the sky.” The image of the “girl flying in the sky” expands to fill the screen at crucial points in the story, and he contemplates a narrative that brings a sense of buoyancy to the audience all at once. First comes the “girl flying in the sky,” and then comes a story that perfectly matches this image. This is the sequence, isn’t it? It’s only an imagination, but I am quite fixated on this hypothesis.
Given a sufficient amount of paper and the task to express my thoughts about “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” I want to take this opportunity to delve a little into the speculation about the meaning of “a girl flying in the sky.” If you have time, please accompany me.
The Surface Theme and the Underlying Theme
Firstly, let’s start with the discussion on what kind of theme the movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service” carries.
When I watch a movie, I usually don’t think about “what is the theme of this movie,” because there is no relationship between the theme and the quality of the work. There are films with grand themes that are boring, and there are incredibly interesting films that don’t seem to have a theme at all. Therefore, even if you ask, “what is the theme of this movie,” and get a coherent answer, it doesn’t particularly help in deeply appreciating the film.
However, I am daringly going to start from that standpoint this time. With “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, I think starting the conversation from the question of “what is the theme of this movie” will make the discussion more interesting.
The film has a clear, almost indisputable theme. Sponsors saw this theme written in the project proposal and funded it; scenarios were written, characters were set, and publicity was launched. So, it is certainly that kind of movie. However, I am quite skeptical about how much Hayao Miyazaki wrote what he “truly thinks” in the “production intention” column of the project proposal. The investors are primarily interested in whether the film will generate profit, not in what Hayao Miyazaki “truly wants to create”.
The “obvious” theme of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is “a girl maturing through labor”. As Miyazaki himself has said so, there can be no objections. Critics and audiences alike have straightforwardly accepted it with a sense of “I see, that makes sense”. But, I do not accept it that easily.
Primarily, why would Miyazaki reveal his “secrets” so easily? I cannot accept that. Doing so would kill the interest in the movie. Miyazaki must be aware of this. On the contrary, I started to speculate that by focusing the interest of sponsors and audiences on this “surface theme”, Miyazaki might be trying to depict his “urgent but non-generic theme” – the “underlying theme” – without anyone noticing it.
I imagine there are those who think there’s no need to be so contrarily skeptical, but in films and novels, this kind of misdirection – leading readers or viewers in the wrong direction – is actually quite common. Hitchcock was a master of it.
Misdirection is also referred to as a “red herring”. A “red herring” is a device used in training hunting dogs to distract them from their original purpose (dogs that are misled in the wrong direction by falling for this trick are severely scolded by their owners).
I don’t want you to misunderstand: filmmakers who set up “red herrings” are not doing so to make a fool of the audience. They are challenging the audience. They are showing respect for the audience’s insight and intuition. That’s what I believe.
It seems like Miyazaki is posing a question to the audience, asking, “What is this movie concealing behind its obvious focus on a specific aspect?”
So, let’s start the discussion with what Hayao Miyazaki’s “red herring” is. Regarding the production intention of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, Miyazaki spoke almost the same words in two interviews. That seemed strange to me. You may be wondering what’s so strange about saying the same thing in interviews, but there’s actually a thirteen-year gap between the two interviews I’m going to quote.
Everyone, please about this. When asked the same question about a major event in your life, do you always give the same answer? Responses to questions like “Why did you get married?” or “Why did you choose this job?” should change as time goes by. If someone gives the same answer they did thirteen years ago when asked such a question, we would think either “this person has not grown at all in these thirteen years” or “they are lying.” It strikes me as odd that a creative talent like Hayao Miyazaki would repeat the same explanation about a work that held a significant transitional meaning for him and for Studio Ghibli, even thirteen years later. This is not normal. Something abnormal has occurred. So, what does that mean?
First, let’s read the interviews themselves. From an interview in 1989:
The initial starting point we had in mind was to create a story about adolescent girls. Specifically, it would revolve around ordinary women, much like those we see around us, who have moved from rural areas to Tokyo and are navigating their lives there. Our goal was to portray a tale that reflects the experiences of girls in today’s society, symbolized by these women. While the story itself takes place in a fictional country with witches, at its core, it explores the journey of girls who have ventured into the city, securing their own space and jobs, but are left wondering about what comes next. We hypothesized that by crafting this narrative successfully, it would resonate with viewers and elicit their empathy.”
The following is from an interview thirteen years later, in 2002:
“I’m not sure if the term ‘self-discovery’ was popular back then, but I somehow intertwined it with the idea and wanted to depict a story akin to a girl who left her rural hometown in search of drawing manga. It became a clear concept within me–a story of someone who possessed some ability to draw, the ability to fly through the sky. It was a talent that anyone could possess, and I pondered if one could sustain a livelihood with it. Such thoughts guided me throughout the creation process.
According to Mr. Miyazaki, “My Neighbor Totoro” was (unbelievably as it is now) a box office failure. Both “Castle in the Sky” and Director Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” also did not perform well, and Studio Ghibli had to make this film to recover from the “economic damage” they suffered then.
Therefore, when talking about the production circumstances of “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” Mr. Miyazaki coldly stated, “I wasn’t enthusiastic about making it.” He “wasn’t enthusiastic,” but he “immediately realized how to make it work” within himself. That’s why he could start work right away.
What Mr. Miyazaki thought of when he said, “This is how it could work,” was to add elements that were not in the original work by Eiko Kadono.
“I think that when we’re doing something like this in Japan, what’s most lacking is the feelings of adolescence, like not being able to control oneself. Those weren’t in the original work, but if they weren’t included, it wouldn’t be satisfying. That’s what I wanted to include in the creation.”
This is an important statement. Mr. Miyazaki intuitively felt that “Kiki’s Delivery Service” would stand as a work by including “something not in the original.” Or perhaps, he thought, “I can draw this too.” Using Mr. Miyazaki’s words directly, “something not in the original” is a “feeling like not being able to control oneself.”
Initially, Mr. Miyazaki tried to express this as “adolescent feelings,” but he replaced it with another word halfway through. That word is “talent” (this word appears in both interviews).
Hayao Miyazaki decided to make the film “Kiki’s Delivery Service” stand as a “story about talent” by adding elements that were not in the original.
The Pitfall of Genius
How can people maintain their innate talents? How can they further enrich and blossom these talents? What triggers the loss of this ability, and how can it be regained? These are questions that are extremely existential and crucial for talented people. However, for ordinary people, or those who consider themselves ‘ordinary’, these are not topics of interest at all. They would simply snort and end the conversation with “Oh, aren’t you lucky to have such talent”. Therefore, you cannot make a commercial movie with the theme of worries about talent. Because the audience wouldn’t come. But for Hayao Miyazaki, there was no question more urgent.
It was a question so urgent that he couldn’t think of anything else day by day. This was a life-or-death issue for him as an individual creator and in terms of raising young people in a kind of educational institution called Studio Ghibli.
So, when the plan for “Kiki’s Delivery Service” came up, Hayao Miyazaki thought, “This will be a story about talent.” He thought he could draw it with high tension if it was that story.
A genius can effortlessly do things that other people can’t from the beginning. They are receiving such wonderful gifts of talent that they wonder why everyone else can’t do something so simple. But, it’s not something they acquired through effort. And, this gifted talent can suddenly be lost. There may be times when you suddenly can’t do what you could easily do until yesterday. This is the pitfall of genius.
Because it was something that could be done so easily until yesterday, when you think again about “how to do it,” you don’t know how to do it. If a person who has worked hard from being “unable to do” to “able to do” falls into a slump, they can restore their abilities by reenacting their past efforts. But for people who “could do it from the beginning,” they don’t understand what it means to “not be able to do what they could do until yesterday.” They don’t know how to bridge from “can’t” to “can.” They don’t have anyone to consult about how to escape from this desperate malfunction, nor anyone to ask for advice. And, there is no one who sympathizes with them. It’s a serious situation. For Kiki, the “ability to fly” was a gifted talent. She could fly without effort. In the movie, it is explained as “flying by blood.” Mr. Miyazaki interprets its meaning in an interview like this.
“What exactly is ‘blood’? It’s something you receive from your parents, isn’t it? It’s not something you’ve learned yourself. Talent, it’s the same for everyone. You need a process to consciously make that power your own, starting from a period when you can use it casually and unconsciously.”
Please pay attention to this slightly forward-leaning tone and the sentence, “Talent, it’s the same for everyone.” Miyazaki is a little excited because he is talking about himself.
Following this, Mr. Miyazaki speaks about Ursula, who becomes Kiki’s friend. I think we can read his words as a reflection on “Hayao Miyazaki and his talent.”
In Eiko Kadono’s original story, there is a woman called the “painting lady” who paints Kiki’s portrait, but she has no name. She does not become Kiki’s best friend and does not talk to Kiki about her own talent. The creation of this character, Ursula, was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki. Now, what does Mr. Miyazaki say about Ursula?
“That’s the same as what Ursula says. You could draw as many pictures as you wanted, but what you really thought was yours was actually something you received. It’s the same for everyone. The work of evaluating your own power by yourself continues throughout your twenties, thirties, forties, and so on, and finally, you get to a certain level of evaluation, saying, ‘So, this is it’. So, the fact that you can no longer do what you used to be able to do unconsciously and easily means that it is impossible to grow unconsciously.”
I read this as about Mr. Miyazaki himself. Mr. Miyazaki was also someone who drew with what he had “received”, with his “blood”. He was naturally very good at drawing. And he made a career out of something he could do “unconsciously”. Yet, he faced the crisis of not being able to draw several times. But fortunately, each time, he managed to get through the crisis. The experiential knowledge that Mr. Miyazaki gained from these experiences was as follows.
When talent is exhausted, in order to escape from that and restart talent, a person must grow. Even a child can work relying on talent. But when talent stops, to activate it again, you need to become an adult. Therefore, a story about talent always becomes a story about growth.
To be honest, Mr. Miyazaki himself didn’t want to become an adult (I think so), but in order to continue drawing and making films, he had no choice but to become an adult. I think this was a rather bitter fact.
However, a story about growth does not necessarily become a story about talent. That’s where it’s difficult. If you announce that “this is a movie about talent,” no one will come to see the movie (though I will). Therefore, to mislead this movie as a story about a “normal theme”, Mr. Miyazaki set two traps in “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
One was making it a story about a “witch”. The other was making it a story about “adolescence”. That a witch can talk to a cat and fly in the sky on a broomstick is nothing but natural talent, no matter what anyone says. But fortunately, such talent does not provoke anyone’s jealousy. Witches are too exceptional to be a point of comparison with oneself. It’s the same as no one being jealous of the ability of the Amazon’s fish-man to switch between gill breathing and lung breathing.
The setting of the witch losing her ability to fly was an excellent “red herring” in this sense. If it’s a story about a witch, the audience will join in wondering, “How can she fly?” and if she can fly, they will applaud without hesitation. If it was about a genius musician who suddenly couldn’t write a song, or a genius writer who suddenly couldn’t write a story, I don’t think the same level of empathy would be achieved.
The other thing is that it made it a story about adolescence. Adolescence is a time that all audience members have gone through (excluding little children for now).
Adolescence is the time when a child, who had no doubt that they were themselves until yesterday, suddenly feels it’s difficult to “be oneself”.
As a child, your heart and body are in perfect harmony. Being oneself was a matter of course. Your desires were purely your own, and your body and mind matched perfectly without any gaps. Then one day, you look in the mirror and see an “unfamiliar face” reflected. When you open your mouth, you hear the voice of a “stranger”. Your body changes shape rapidly without your knowing. Walking, eating, chatting, all the things that could be done without any difficulty until yesterday, feel awkward and unnatural, as if you’re wearing the “stuffed animal” of another person. All the things that could be done unconsciously until yesterday can no longer be done smoothly. That’s adolescence. It’s something everyone experiences.
Innate talent and adolescence are very similar in the form of inability, in that “you can’t control yourself” and “what you could easily do yesterday, you can’t do today”. Therefore, Mr. Miyazaki made this the second “red herring”.
This is a story about a girl who came from the countryside, borrowing the form of a parable of a witch’s coming-of-age story, as explained by Mr. Miyazaki. Everyone understood. I see, so it’s a “heartwarming, peaceful story”. Then we can watch it comfortably.
If everyone thinks that way, the misdirection is successful. Like a cunning magician who performs magic out of sight with one hand while the audience is watching the spinning fingers of the other, I think Mr. Miyazaki secretly decided to make a “movie about genius” for himself, while officially announcing that he would make a “movie about an adolescent witch” based on the original work “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
The witch’s troubles are a story from a fictional world. The dissociation during adolescence is a problem for everyone. The waxing and waning of talent is a problem only for geniuses. The witch and adolescence don’t really matter, but Hayao Miyazaki really wanted to depict how talent wanes and how it is revitalized. That is the story about the icon of the “girl who can fly”.
Hayao Miyazaki’s Icon
Hayao Miyazaki is a genius. Regardless of how much he denies it, this is indisputable. And geniuses have their own unique sufferings. A genius, who can easily do things that others can’t even dream of achieving, may suddenly become unable to do something that they used to do effortlessly. Why did this happen? They don’t know the reason. They can’t draw anymore. They can’t think of stories anymore. They can’t ask anyone why they can’t do what they used to do unconsciously. Nobody can tell them how to draw again. They can only figure it out themselves. And Hayao Miyazaki has experienced and escaped from this “crisis of not being able to draw” several times. This is because he discovered a rule of thumb that could get him out of it.
Even in the worst condition, when he can’t draw at all or can’t think of any stories, there has always been an “icon” that can save Mr. Miyazaki. When he tries to draw this icon, the brush starts moving naturally, regardless of the author’s intention, even in the most desperate conditions. The wind begins to blow where the water’s surface was as calm as a mirror, and the imagination that had been shrinking starts hesitantly spreading its wings. As he continues to draw that picture, a “force that cannot be controlled by will” is activated. Such a privileged motif exists for Mr. Miyazaki.
You’ve probably guessed it. That is the icon of the “girl who can fly”. The “flying girl” was a privileged icon for Hayao Miyazaki. I think it probably works as a “prayer” or “mantra” for him. When drawing the “flying girl”, something “beyond his control” is released in Hayao Miyazaki. Something like magma erupts, blowing off the earth’s crust, passing through the body and manifesting itself.
The icon of the “flying girl” triggers a kind of “wild energy”, a power that cannot be controlled. It’s like how a werewolf is filled with energy all over his body when he sees a full moon. Such “triggers that release wild energy” actually exist in everyone, although they differ in form and scale.
Now, let’s move on to the main topic. Why was the “flying girl” a privileged icon for Hayao Miyazaki? This is the most essential question. Many people have pointed out that the image of the “flying girl” is like the “fingerprint” of a Miyazaki movie. This is indeed true, and of course, he himself acknowledges it.
“When I reach a certain level, whether I’ll fly or continue running on the ground, I ask those around me. As I continue asking, I understand what I want to do. In the middle of it all, there’s a feeling that says ‘Hmm, maybe it’s the same pattern as always,’ of course. And then I wonder, ‘Will I fly again?'”
Yes, I’ll fly again. I always fly. When a girl flies in the sky, the gears shift smoothly and accelerate greatly. But why?
Firstly, in this story “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” what does “flying in the sky” signify? Let’s start our analysis from there.
The whole of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is woven around the fundamental question of what it means to “fly in the sky.” The answers are all embedded within this film. It’s safe to say that.
In the movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” the act of “a girl flying in the sky” is purely functional. It’s a means of “moving from one place to another.” It’s simply the case that what could be done with trains or cars is done here with a “witch’s broom” as an alternative means of transport. Therefore, the act of moving itself is not a particularly thematic event in her life. It’s just a “link” in the story. The real story about her unfolds on the ground, among those who “can’t fly.” Nothing happens in the air. In other words, speaking in terms of a coming-of-age story, opportunities for Kiki to grow don’t come just by her flying.
Of course, even when she’s flying, she gets wet in the rain, is attacked by a flock of crows, or is blown by a gust of wind, but these are all incidental “accidents” and not things that Kiki “chose.”
This is important. The girl flying in the sky is not something she “chose.” She is not flying because she wants to.
Even when she first leaves home, Kiki is following an old witch’s tradition of “setting off on the night of the full moon at thirteen.” The extent of her choices is roughly “the night of this month’s full moon” or “the night of next month’s full moon.” The first train she lands on is a shelter for unavoidably taking refuge from the heavy rain. The city where she decides to settle also comes with the condition of being a “city without a pre-existing witch.” And the profession she chooses to make use of her ability is a “courier.” In this profession, she can’t decide when, where, and for what purpose she flies. She has to sell her decision-making power over flying for a small amount of money.
Then, through her encounter with Tombo, Kiki experiences losing her ability to fly. It’s due to a new emotion she’s experiencing for the first time, “jealousy,” which she can’t control. Because of an emotion she can’t control, she loses her only social ability.
Even when that ability recovers, it is not because she decided to recover it. A strong emotion, the need to save Tombo, overrides her restraint. Kiki, straddling a borrowed deck brush and doing barrel rolls, makes us realize that her “ability to fly” is not something she can control centrally.
Why does she lose the ability to fly?
This might be a bit confusing, but for Kiki, the power to fly is an ability that can only be controlled by appropriately releasing control. In other words, her ability to fly was a “gigantic power that only activates when unconscious.” Therefore, during the immature pre-adolescent period, when she was living purely on instinct like a wild animal, flying for Kiki was as natural as a child learning to walk. However, as she matures, conditions emerge that degrade Kiki’s flying ability. The power to fly is compromised by fear, anxiety, and jealousy. In other words, this ability is lost when she tries to “protect herself”. When she becomes defensive, and her body and mind harden, it is lost. Conversely, it is activated when she is in a cheerful mood, works even more smoothly when she is “working for someone,” and maximizes when she tries “to save someone.” Kiki’s flying ability is not something she can control at will, and when and how she flies is determined in the “relationship between the subject and the other.”
Kiki’s social maturity in “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is accomplished by making her “ability to fly,” which was meaningful only to her and something only she could do, meaningful to others through her encounters with the townspeople.
Until her departure, the ability to “fly” was purely a “private affair” for Kiki. It was Tombo who gave public recognition to this ability. He shows intense admiration for Kiki’s flying ability. This was the first time Kiki had encountered such a person. Through the experience of her abilities bringing money and being desired by others, Kiki gradually becomes unable to “fly unconsciously.”
Please remember again under what circumstances she lost the ability to fly. I wrote earlier that it was because of “jealousy”. Who is she jealous of? Is it jealousy toward the girlfriends who came to invite Tombo to view the airship? That’s probably part of it. But, the real object of Kiki’s jealousy is the “airship”.
This is a flying mechanism created by humans. Its luxury compared to Kiki’s broomstick, its range, comfort, and payload are incomparable. And everyone in town is obsessed with it. Even Tombo, who is a loyal admirer of Kiki, is more obsessed with the airship than with Kiki. At this time, Kiki’s flying ability, which was a “private affair” for her, is “rated” and quantified in a public frame. Kiki learns that the ability she had been unconsciously using until then, and innocently making money from, is positioned quite low in the practical ability of “flying ability”. At that point, Kiki loses her ability to fly.
Why did she lose it? Through Tombo’s admiration and the requests from her delivery customers, Kiki learned that her flying ability, which was her “private matter”, is also “meaningful to others”. This initially brings her a sense of self-esteem. It’s a new experience, and she couldn’t be happier since her ability is recognized by others.
However, being “valued by others” in this way also means being “rated by others”. Once the “power to fly” is quantified and ranked, it carries the risk of being abruptly discarded with the logic that “we don’t need the broom witch anymore because there’s something else that flies with better cost performance”. Those who base their existence on being recognized by others lose their grounds for existence when they are denied by others. This is a highly risky game.
Kiki doesn’t understand this mechanism yet. But Kiki can no longer fly like a child. From now on, she has no choice but to survive in this harsh game.
In this game, the increase and decrease in “flying ability” are directly tied to the relationship between the subject and the other, its density, and its intensity. As the “flying ability” becomes a commodity exchanged between anonymous sellers and buyers in the market as a mere cashable skill, the “power to fly” weakens. Conversely, when used in a mutual network of supporting and being supported, relying on and being relied on, causing and experiencing inconvenience with people with unique names and faces, the necessity of “flying” becomes robust, and her “power to fly” is strengthened.
Becoming an adult is about understanding the difference between whether your talent can be replaced by someone other than yourself or whether it is an irreplaceable thing that cannot be replaced by anyone else.
The girl who ventured from the countryside to the city didn’t acquire various survival skills for urban life; instead, she discovered the conditions that activate her innate power flowing in her “blood.” Settling in an unfamiliar land, Kiki embarks. on a journey of self-discovery. Those who are unfamiliar with her teach her about her true identity, who she out to be, and who others desire her to become. It truly resonates as a compelling coming-of-age story.
But as you may have already noticed, Kiki’s “power to fly” can be replaced with Hayao Miyazaki’s “ability to draw”. Please reread the text from about three pages ago, replacing “Kiki” with “Hayao Miyazaki” and “fly” with “draw” (please, do give it a try). You will see that “Kiki’s story” is directly “Hayao Miyazaki’s story”.
Ursula the painter is also one of Miyazaki’s avatars. She speaks about the “inability to draw” on the street. We can consider this as almost a direct quote from Miyazaki himself.
“When I was about (Kiki’s) age, I decided to become a painter. Drawing was so much fun. I even hated to sleep. But then, one day, I just couldn’t draw. No matter how much I drew, I didn’t like it. I realized that my previous drawings were imitations of someone else’s. They were something I’d seen somewhere before… I had to draw my own picture…”
Ursula, who had been in a slump for a long time, was brought out of it by the figure of the “flying girl”, Kiki, drawn on the bus.
The Power of Beauty in Hayao Miyazaki
Why can the “girl who flies in the sky” become a privileged icon for the creative desire of the author Hayao Miyazaki?
In a word, it’s because girls do not fly in the sky. This is a “picture of the impossible.”
If girls who call the wind to fly the Mêve, girls who rise in the air with a levitation stone, or girls who fly astride a broomstick really existed, it would be possible to discuss the fine and coarse, or the skillful and unskillful, aspects of the pictures. There could be various words of criticism about the composition, the drawing, the use of color, the style, etc. But, girls do not fly in the sky. This is a “picture of the impossible.” Therefore, no one can say anything about “how realistically it reproduces the real thing.” I think that’s why Hayao Miyazaki chose the “girl who flies in the sky.”
When Mr. Miyazaki paints the “girl who flies in the sky,” do you know what picture he puts the most effort into? It’s the picture of the moment of takeoff.
The girl, against the laws of gravity, rises, captures the wind, and begins to fly. When depicting this “physically impossible scenery,” Hayao Miyazaki’s creative imagination is maximized. How should he paint so that something that should absolutely not fly looks like it’s really taking off? This is the pictorial theme where Hayao Miyazaki, as an animator, can pour in his best techniques without reserve. How to make the audience swallow the fact that there may exist objects on this earth that move against the laws of physics. I think Mr. Miyazaki is moving his hands for that purpose with tremendous concentration.
The “girl who flies in the sky” is a “lie”. It’s a thorough lie. No matter how innovative the propulsion device you come up with, you can’t achieve something like rising from the ground and starting to glide while riding on a broomstick. Everyone knows that. But if we can’t get them to believe this “lie,” the structure of the story will collapse.
In “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” we can see Miyazaki’s feat of “making you believe in the lie” twice.
The initial scene unfolds as Kiki takes flight on the night of a full moon. As she bids farewell to those around her with a “See you later,” her bangs and the large red ribbon on her head sway in the wind, standing tall as she gazes forward on her broomstick. Gradually, the broomstick begins to ascend. Just as her windblown hair and ribbon start returning to their natural state, the broomstick abruptly accelerates, releasing the accumulated pressure. The wind rushes into Kiki, hesitating for a moment before transforming into a powerful burst of physical force. It paints a captivating image that captivates the viewers, making them wholeheartedly believe in the scene.
The second instance takes place in a climactic scene where Kiki, using a borrowed janitor’s deck brush, launches herself from the ground to rescue Tombo, who is hanging from an airship. In this moment, all surrounding natural sounds fade away, leaving only the sound of Kiki’s intense breath. Gradually, even her breathing dissipates. Initially, the bristles of the brush ripple like an animal’s fur, suddenly standing on end. As the wind picks up, Kiki’s hair and ribbon also stand upright, mirroring the brush’s transformation. With Kiki’s resolute command of “Fly,” the brush propels into the air, resembling a catapult’s launch.
During both instances, the pivotal moments when Kiki breaks free from Earth’s gravity and ascends from the ground are captured through close-up shots of her. In her departure, Kiki flies with an “unconscious” state, resulting in an innocent and serene expression, resembling that of a contented baby. However, when she takes off with the deck brush to save Tombo, Kiki’s face no longer bears a childlike expression. Her chin becomes more defined, her cheeks slightly hollowed, her eyebrows sharply raised, and her gaze piercing and focused. She already exhibits signs of maturing into an adult woman. Moreover, she utters the word “Fly,” absent during her initial flight. This implies that by this point, Kiki’s ability to fly is no longer an innate and familiar aspect from her birth. It has evolved into a two-way dynamic—a power that cannot be easily controlled by her own will, requiring her to release the notion of attempting to control it. The profound concept of “innocent intimacy with one’s own genius” must be relinquished by those who possess natural talent and aspire to grow alongside it. I deeply admire Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful depiction of the bittersweetness of growing up.
Uchida Tatsuru – Born in Tokyo in 1950. Honorary Professor of Kobe Women’s University. He received the Hideo Kobayashi Prize for “Privately Published Jewish Cultural Theory” and the Shinsho Grand Prize for “Japanese Frontier Theory” in 2000. Other works include “Ethics of Hesitation”, “Lower Class Aspiration”, “Levinas and the Phenomenology of Love”, and many more.