In many animated movies, there is usually some sort of “coming of age” plot involved. The main characters go through varied challenges that help them to navigate the world in a different way, forcing them out of their naïve childhoods. Though there are many live action “coming of age” films, there are more and more animated movies that illustrate this change in order to allow younger children to recognize this transition. If you watch these films as an adult, sometimes you don’t relate to these characters anymore, since they might just represent a phase of childhood.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1989) is one of these animated “coming of age” films that has continued to resonate with me, and quite a few other people, just as much as an adult as it did when I was a child.
The film is all about a young witch named Kiki. At the age of 13, as is the custom of all witches at that age (according to her mother), Kiki has to leave home for a year in order to better hone her witching abilities. Kiki is eager to leave, even proposing leaving a month early, to relish in her newfound independence and feelings of being “grown up.”
Sounds familiar to people who have gone away to college or left home, right?
As Kiki arrives in her new town, unsure of everything, she quickly has to adjust to life away from her family and to life in the new town. She meets a bakery owner and exchanges her delivery services for a place to live with her cat Jiji (who also acts as a sort of voice of reason), she meets new people. However, despite getting herself set up, she still has to try to forge her own identity as a witch. She has to find what her specialty is. As the film progresses, Kiki begins to doubt her identity. She tries to become friends with a local boy, Tombo, but when she meets his friends, she gets intimidated and flees. She seemingly becomes depressed, loses her flying ability, loses her ability to speak with and understand Jiji, and has to suspend her business. She feels lost.
This series of events, though tinged with elements of magic, feel incredibly relatable to those of us who have had to move away from home, whether it be for college or a job or even just to move out. We are forced out from the comforts of what we know and understand and have to try to adjust to our new environments. Though we are excited by the new independence and opportunities to meet new people and expand our horizons, it can sometimes be overwhelming to not have the comfort and support system we are used to and to forge a new identity for ourselves.
Kiki does end up finding support from another witch, Ursula, who suggests that Kiki is suffering from a sort of “artist’s block” and she should find another purpose in order to regain some of her abilities. Kiki ends up saving Tombo after an airship accident and regains her flying power. Unfortunately, she still isn’t able to communicate with Jiji – which can be seen as a kind of reference to growing up, leaving some of childhood behind, and being able to thoughtfully make one’s own decisions (as Jiji acted as her wise voice). She finds that her purpose is rooted in being open and vulnerable, by not being afraid to reach out to others, and to find confidence within herself.
Kiki’s journey is a universal one, fitting for both children and teens who have to change schools and for older teens and adults leaving home. She shows us, in this “coming of age” film, that the experience of finding oneself outside of the world you’re comfortable in is something that isn’t totally scary, as long as you’re willing to let your guard down and believe in yourself.