When I was around six or seven years old, a VHS videotape dubbed with “Kiki’s Delivery Service” arrived from my grandmother who lived far away.
As a child who wholeheartedly believed in fairies and the magical world depicted in the story, I was naturally captivated by Kiki’s adventures, flying on a magic broomstick and talking to her companion, the black cat. After finishing the film, I strongly believed that magic could be real if I took it seriously. There was, however, a lingering feeling that I hadn’t fully grasped the movie, as if something was missing. Inside my grandmother’s package, there was also a film program enclosed. I could barely read the photocopy of Kiki’s note written on her cat’s collar, which said, “I’ve had my moments of feeling down, but I’m fine.” But, there were many kanji characters I hadn’t learned and sentences whose meanings I didn’t understand, which added to my confusion. Nonetheless, for some time after watching the film, I would open the program’s pages and ponder about the movie in a hazy manner.
During elementary school, there was an opportunity to watch “Kiki’s Delivery Service” during school lunchtime. There was something called “Film Month” that happened once a year, where a movie was broadcasted on a small television in the classroom for about fifteen minutes every week. although, the broadcast always ended after four or five episodes, and we never knew the ending. But no one complained. Since it was during the lively lunchtime, the children weren’t completely focused on the screen, and perhaps most of them had already experienced both “Castle in the Sky” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” To confess, I had never seen “Castle in the Sky,” so I was very curious about what would happen in the end, but it ended without me being able to ask anyone. Nonetheless, on the day “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was broadcasted, I sat a little more seriously than the other children, biting into my bread and sipping on my carton of milk, stealing glances at the TV screen.
Now, when I try to recall the movie, it’s not the specific story that comes to mind but rather the time I spent alone thinking about the film while gazing at the program. I was actually contemplating the parts of the movie that I didn’t like. The senior witch girl who never showed a smile when spoken to, the town children who laughed at Kiki’s black outfit, the granddaughter who didn’t appreciate the pie her grandmother had baked, the loneliness of the painter living in the forest, the sudden inability to fly on the broomstick, the sudden loss of the ability to communicate with Jiji, the frustration of being able to fly again but still unable to talk to Jiji in the end… I didn’t understand why these small unpleasant moments existed and why things happened the way they did, and that lack of understanding left me feeling unsatisfied. It could have been attributed to me simply being a child who didn’t understand, but I couldn’t bring myself to think that way. That’s why I kept flipping through the pages of the program, seeking some kind of hint.
Since elementary school lunchtime, I hadn’t seen Kiki’s figure for a long time, but the movie had always lingered in the corner of my heart. It was a lingering feeling that I hadn’t experienced with other movies. It was different from “liking,” but when asked what I liked about Studio Ghibli films, I always answered “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Sometimes, I had dreams of practicing flying while crying, after suddenly losing the ability to fly even though I used to soar through the sky like Kiki.
Then, I grew up quite a bit, became a company employee, and took a longer vacation when I was feeling a bit tired. I decided to go on a solo trip abroad for a change of mood. I spent a week exploring London and the town of Torquay, which faces the sea in southwest England. And by some twist of fate, while killing time at Heathrow Airport waiting for my return flight, I stumbled upon the overseas version of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in a store. Now that I think about it, the streets along the coast of Torquay somewhat resembled the seaside street where Kiki and Jiji rode their bicycles in Koriko. It was only a week, and I was no longer a thirteen-year-old girl, but Kiki’s familiar figure overlapped with the version of myself who was both taken care of and treated kindly by strangers in an unfamiliar foreign country and had ventured out on my own despite feeling nervous. Reading the explanations on the back cover, I found out that the voice of Kiki was provided by Kirsten Dunst, who resembled one of my friends. So, I liked it even more and decided to buy it as a souvenir, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to watch it on my TV at home due to the regional differences.
After returning home, I played the DVD on my small computer screen. It had been over ten years since I last watched it. As I started watching, I realized that the senior witch wasn’t as mean as I had remembered, and the townspeople’s reactions to Kiki weren’t as cold as I had thought. Well, if a witch suddenly descended from the sky, it’s understandable to react that way. The boys and girls weren’t laughing at Kiki’s black outfit, and even when they saw the granddaughter who didn’t appreciate the pie her grandmother had worked hard to bake, I easily accepted that people can have misunderstandings like that. As for the artist who lived alone in the forest, seemingly without any friends other than the crows, I envied her for willingly living like that. In the past, I used to feel sorry for her, wondering if she had been kicked out of her family or bullied by the townspeople.
And above all, Kiki suddenly losing her ability to fly and not being able to communicate with Jiji anymore. It could be attributed to various reasons, like Kiki falling in love with Tombo or Jiji falling in love with a white cat. There could be different interpretations, but I believed that there was absolutely no reason behind it. In other words, I thought that it really happens, things can change suddenly without any clear reason. It made me realize once again that such things truly exist.
For some unknown reason, one day, something that used to come naturally suddenly becomes impossible. On a very personal level, it could be as simple as struggling to peel a boiled egg smoothly or being unable to write a novel that you were enthusiastic about just the day before. Or it could be that one day you no longer feel anything for someone you once had strong emotions for. Or it could be that someone suddenly passes away, and you can never see them again. The reasons behind these changes are endless, but precisely because of that, there is never a single definitive reason for such occurrences. To move forward, to live in reality, there are things that we have no choice but to accept as they happen.
As a young child, what didn’t sit well with me in this film was the injustice of the final scene. Kiki regains her magic and can fly in the sky again, but she still can’t communicate with Jiji. Jiji approaches her as she flies on a broom to rescue Tombo, and he perches on her shoulder, chirping twice. Kiki closes her eyes and gently smiles, showing affection for Jiji who can no longer speak… Seeing this last scene, after over ten years, I felt that Kiki’s expression was filled with varying degrees of empathy for people who experience all sorts of injustice in this world, and a serene acceptance of that injustice, as if saying, “Yeah, things like that happen, right?” When I was a child, I couldn’t understand such things.
There are good things and bad things in life, and accepting both the kindness and cruelty of reality, and doing everything you can in that moment. This film has lingered in my heart for many years because Kiki subtly showed me, even in my six or seven-year-old innocent mind, how to navigate the world I had to live in. I think she planted a faint sense of that understanding like a time capsule deep within me, unknowingly preparing me as the seasons passed and I grew older, eventually venturing out on my own as an adult.
When I watched the overseas version I bought in London, and even when I revisited the original version while writing this essay, I cried my heart out during the final scene. The injustice it portrayed, the harshness of reality it symbolized, my own unhappiness for understanding such harshness, and my own happiness for knowing how to accept that injustice. If the younger version of myself saw it, she would surely be wide-eyed and wonder, “Why are you crying?” If I could have a conversation with myself from back then, I would be able to say, as Kiki taught me, “Yeah, things like that happen. But it’s okay.” It might still be incomprehensible for young children, but such an attitude is vital in living our lives.
Looking back, when I left home to attend university, I brought the black cat stuffed animal that was in the living room with me to my new place. And even now, twelve years later as I write this manuscript, I can see that stuffed animal at the head of my bed when I turn to the side. And I still occasionally have dreams of frustration from not being able to fly. When I see brooms at the home center, I feel tempted to straddle them. During the changing seasons, I find myself humming the film’s song “Embraced by Kindness (優しさに包まれて).”
It seems that I am much more deeply, and for much longer, under the spell of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” than I thought.
Aoyama, Nanami – Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1983. Graduated from the Library and Information Science program at Tsukuba University. Received the Bungei Prize for “Mado no Akari” in 2005, and won the Akutagawa Prize for “Hitori Biyori” in 2007 and the Kawabata Yasunari Literature Award for “Kakera Ma” in 2009, becoming the youngest recipient in history. Other works include “Yasashii Tameiki,” “Watashi no Kareshi,” “Hanayome,” “Sumire,” “Kairaku,” “Owakare no Oto,” and many more.