May 25-30 is Studio Ghibli Week at Polygon. To have a good time the arrival of the Japanese animation home’s library on digital and streaming providers, we’re surveying the studio’s historical past, affect, and largest themes. Follow alongside by way of our Ghibli Week web page.
Hayao Miyazaki’s 1989 animated function Kiki’s Delivery Service masterfully handles loads of conventional matters round rising up and discovering a path on the earth. But it additionally touches on a aspect of rising up that society tends to miss: It’s a lonely course of. Finding your manner is lonely. Seperating from an in depth household unit and making your manner in a brand new place is lonely.
Studio Ghibli’s fourth feature-length movie follows a younger witch named Kiki who, per witch custom, leaves residence at age 13 to finish her coaching. Armed along with her mom’s broom and her acquainted Jiji, Kiki lands in a brand new metropolis full of latest individuals and establishes herself because the resident witch.
Studio Ghibli movies usually interrogate the notion of loneliness and emotional connection, centering on heroes that reluctantly strike out on their very own, resembling Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle and Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, loneliness isn’t explicitly within the forefront; it slowly folds itself into Kiki’s life because the story stretches out. Even when she’s surrounded by pleasant individuals, she’s in the end alone.
She has the kindness of Osono the bakery proprietor, the recommendation of plucky artist Ursula, and tentative friendship from Tombo. But none of these are as near her because the family and friends who gathered to want her off firstly of the film. Her unhappiness takes a tangible toll on her, and robs her of her magical powers. By the tip of the film, Kiki nonetheless hasn’t totally recovered from these emotions — whereas she’s in a position to fly on her broomstick as soon as extra, she loses the bond she has along with her acquainted Jiji. She’s by no means in a position to recuperate that relationship in the identical manner, however the brand new hole between them speaks to the thought of accepting loneliness as a part of rising up.
Studio Ghibli movies are not any strangers to loneliness
Loneliness is threaded by many Ghibli movies, a lot of which function protagonists who set off on a journey not as a result of they significantly need to, however as a result of they’re pressured to. Kiki leaves residence due to witch custom, however in contrast to different Ghibli heroes, she jumps on the concept — even skipping a deliberate tenting journey along with her father as a result of she’s so excited. But in Spirited Away, Chihiro is forcibly separated from her dad and mom, and winds up in an odd spirit world. In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie is cursed by a witch and leaves her hat store to trek to the Wastes. In Princess Mononoke, Ashikita ventures out from his village to hunt an answer for the horrible curse consuming him. And on a much less fantastical word, in Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku navigates the doldrums of adolescence.
They all do it alone.
Sending characters off on solo journeys isn’t a very progressive storytelling selection, particularly for coming-of-age movies, which are sometimes about studying self-reliance and independence. But Ghibli movies linger on the lonely parts of those journeys. The heroes begin out remoted from others, and their separation from the world persists all through their movies, lingering even once they do discover firm.
In Howl’s Moving Castle, as an illustration, Sophie’s loneliness begins even earlier than the Witch of the Waste turns her into an aged lady. She quietly makes hats in a secluded alcove. Her coworkers are offscreen, and it’s clear she doesn’t slot in with them. After her transformation, the loneliness she’s constructed round her matches extra snugly on her now 90-year-old physique. She treks from Market Chipping, a speck in opposition to the pastoral landscapes. She eats an idyllic meal of bread and cheese. She heads deeper and deeper into the Wastes by herself. Even after she makes new mates, many moments of the movie give attention to Sophie by herself, quietly, questioning if she’s even earned the closeness of those relationships she’s discovered.
By the tip of their films, the characters have discovered connections with others, however as a result of we all know the depth of their unique loneliness, these relationships tackle extra that means. They aren’t superficial; they’re deep, crucial emotional connections fostered all through the entire film, and a solution to solitude.
This is very true in works like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, the place two characters bond by shared experiences and a deep emotional connection, however should half methods on the finish. The feeling of being alone returns — Spirited Away protagonist Chihiro leaves the spirit realm with out her beloved Haku, Princess Mononoke’s San retreats to the woods whereas Ashitaka rebuilds the city — however the characters are not lonely. They’ve reached a degree of deep emotional intimacy with each other that can by no means go away. As the previous witch Zeniba says in Spirited Away, “Once you’ve met someone, you never really forget them.”
Kiki’s Delivery Service approaches loneliness a bit otherwise
But in contrast to in these different movies, Kiki units off on her journey as a result of she’s desirous to develop up and take cost. And she’s not alone. She has Jiji, her beloved black cat and confidant. She heads out on her journey a weekend sooner than she anticipated to, bidding her household and group a heartfelt farewell.
She doesn’t come from loneliness — she comes from a spot of affection and connection. She’s excited for the journey forward, for an opportunity to develop up. It’s a basic coming-of-age fantasy setup. And in contrast to the above movies, the place a journey begins with loss, Kiki’s Delivery Service begins whereas Kiki nonetheless has one thing left to lose.
When she takes off into the evening sky, she isn’t alone, bodily or emotionally — she flies with Jiji, she crosses paths with one other witch, she makes use of her mom’s broom. The music taking part in on her radio is cheery. Like Sophie, she’s a small determine in opposition to an unlimited panorama, however whereas Sophie appears dwarfed by the ominous Wastes, Kiki soars triumphantly, prepared for her journey.
When Kiki arrives in her new metropolis, the residents don’t take too kindly to her, a touch that this journey received’t be as easy and victorious as she may need thought. She’s a stranger within the massive crowds, unused to bustling visitors and staring individuals. Jiji voices his concern: perhaps they need to discover one other city that’s friendlier? But Kiki is set to make this work.
And once more, she isn’t alone. She meets pleasant faces and varieties connections. Osono the bakery proprietor rapidly takes her beneath her wing. Aviation-fan Tombo thinks she’s the best factor since sliced bread. Quirky artist Ursula takes a liking to her. Kiki talks to the purchasers who rent her for supply providers. But because the idealism of latest experiences wears off, Kiki begins to understand she isn’t precisely completely satisfied. When Tombo tries to introduce her to his mates, she turns away from them, intimidated by the closeness they already share.
“I make friends, then suddenly I can’t bear to be with any of them,” Kiki tells Jiji. It’s a continued realization of her personal loneliness, which hits more durable when her alienation means she and Jiji can not talk in human phrases.
Kiki’s unhappiness impacts her magic so she will not fly, however the separation with Jiji comes from one thing else totally. Kiki is finally in a position to regain her magical powers, after taking a break from work, hanging out with Ursula, and swooping in to save lots of Tombo on the film’s finish. But she by no means repairs the bond she as soon as had with Jiji. While the 1997 English dub has a throwaway line on the finish implying that they’re in a position to discuss once more (Jiji leaping on her shoulder and asking “Kiki, can you hear me?”), the unique Japanese doesn’t. Miyazaki himself has mentioned within the artwork ebook for the movie that Jiji represents an immature facet of Kiki, and by the tip of the movie, she not wants him.
But within the context of exploring loneliness, Jiji represents extra than simply Kiki’s infantile facet. He represents her childhood, the bonds she had along with her household in her youth, a consolation she will all the time return to when issues get significantly troublesome. Time and time once more by the film, she turns to Jiji when she’s in any other case alone. But when that bond is severed — when she’s thrust out of the comforts she as soon as knew — she faces a loneliness she’s by no means skilled earlier than. It’s a part of rising up, however it’s nonetheless painful and scary.
Kiki’s Delivery Service has a cheerful ending: Kiki can fly once more, she’s revered within the city, and he or she realizes she has made mates. But like all Ghibli films, it has a bittersweet thread. Jiji doesn’t go away Kiki. They’re collectively on the finish of the film. But they will’t talk in the identical manner. Relationships evolve, particularly ones from childhood. In time, they may be taught to know one another once more — simply not in the identical manner as earlier than. Loneliness won’t ever go away Kiki totally. It won’t ever go away any of us. But it’s knitted into life, as one thing all of us settle for eventually. And it helps us admire the deep bonds we do have.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought by way of affiliate hyperlinks. For extra info, see our ethics coverage.