The Daily Stream: Kiki's Delivery Service Is A Coming-Of-Age Fantasy Story About Creative Burnout

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Kiki's Delivery Service"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Kiki is a witch-in-training who has just turned 13, which means she must undergo the tradition of leaving home to make it on her own. She settles in the big port city of Koriko, where she starts a delivery service, delivering goods by broomstick. But something doesn't feel right: Kiki starts to feel increasingly isolated and uninspired by her job, until she suddenly loses her witch powers. She must figure out a way to gain them back — or does she even need to?

Why It's Essential Viewing

I hit a wall recently when it came to writing, and I thought of "Kiki's Delivery Service." Hayao Miyazaki's 1989 coming-of-age classic was a staple of my childhood — it was one of three VHS tapes that my grandma owned, which meant I watched it over and over until the tape wore out. But I hadn't revisited it in some time and, partially inspired by my own looming burnout and by a video essay by Patrick Willems, I decided to throw it on again, maybe out of some halfhearted attempt to find inspiration in a childhood favorite.

"Kiki's Delivery Service" is a sweet, low-key story about a young girl from the country who dreams of moving to the big city, but it takes some unexpected turns away from the fish-out-of-water narrative you might expect from that premise. After leaving home, Kiki settles down in the big city of Koriko, but finds it cold and unwelcoming, apart from a few friendly faces who take her in. She easily finds a job using her natural talents, and the usual hijinks ensue — a botched delivery job, an encounter with some angry crows — but for the most part, things go swimmingly for Kiki. There's really little plot to speak of, few conflicts outside of a few low-stakes misadventures. "Kiki's Delivery Service" is one of those Miyazaki movies that is content to just be.

Except it's not, really. There must be more to being, which "Kiki's Delivery Service" examines through Kiki's identity crisis that plays out two-thirds of the way through the film. Kiki's business seems to be going well, but she's bored and lonely. She is looking at the young, carefree kids of Koriko from the outside, but is unable to join in with them. She's not finding the fulfillment out of living in her dream city and doing her dream job that she had expected. And as Kiki begins to fall into a depression, she suddenly loses her witch powers — she can't talk to her cat Jiji anymore, and she has lost the ability to fly her broom. Baffled as to this sudden loss of her powers, Kiki takes a trip to the cabin of her artist friend Ursula, who tells her that she went through the same crisis with her painting, and encourages her to find the inspiration that will bring back her powers.

There's a clear connection drawn between Kiki's witch powers and the creative process (and turning your passion into your job) that I don't need to get into — even the animators and artists working on "Kiki's Delivery Service" at the time have spoken about how they poured much of their own personal experiences into this particular aspect of the film. But watching "Kiki's Delivery Service" this time around, what I found more interesting than the universal feeling of burnout was the idea that Kiki's powers aren't lost to her forever. Rather, it's because she took them for granted that she lost her connection to that part of herself. Everyone else is awed at her abilities, but she had lost sight of the awe that she might have found in it at first (which, if I'm going to read into it too much, feels like Miyazaki self-reflecting on his own genius).

"We fly with our spirit," she tells Ursula. In getting caught up in the material aspects of her life (a common anti-capitalistic thread in a lot of Miyazaki's films), Kiki had lost touch with that spirit, that innate part of her that gives her those amazing powers. While I'm not saying that my writing about movies is anything as amazing as art or filmmaking or flight, watching "Kiki's Delivery Service" again reminded me that my ability is probably still there, somewhere, lying latent. One day, it might be as easy to write again as it is to ride a bike or fly a broom. Like Kiki says, "Maybe I need to find my own inspiration."