Spoiler alert for Kiki’s Delivery Service
When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I saw a commercial for the very limited theatrical release of this beautiful looking anime film. Created by a “master filmmaker” I had never heard of, it had gorgeous visuals, unusual characters, and an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. As there weren’t any theaters near me that was playing it, my only glimpse into this wonderful looking film was this commercial until I was able to acquire it on DVD.
I got into Studio Ghibli purely on a commercial for the limited theatrical release of Spirited Away.
Perhaps due to the popularity of Spirited Away, Walmart started selling several of Studio Ghibli’s films. I realized when I saw the four-way with the Studio Ghibli films that I had actually seen one of their films before I had seen Spirited Away. I don’t remember if I saw the movie before or after I saw the Spirited Away commercial, but either way I never made the connection that both films were made by the same studio until that moment in the Walmart store. I do remember sitting on the hardwood floor at the foot of my brother’s bed while the Disney Channel was playing on his old tube TV and there was a witch with a red bow in the middle of the street focusing intently on a chimney sweeper broom trying to get it to magically levitate.
I think Studio Ghibli is so popular because they are masters of storytelling and animation. They’re so good at their craft that other major animation studios like Disney and Pixar have looked at their films for inspiration. But no matter how many of their past films were dubbed into English or how many new films were released, Kiki’s Delivery Service remains my favorite.
Perhaps it was because Kiki is so relatable beyond both of us wearing black clothes, owning a black cat, and becoming friends with an oil painter. She started off as overly determined, but her confidence and self-esteem wavered. Her abilities weren’t absolute as they were affected by things like depression. She had to take on adult responsibilities at a young age yet struggled with becoming independent. These mirror experiences in my own life—just in different ways and without the support system that Kiki had.
In the third act of the film, Kiki experiences a crisis when she temporarily loses her ability to fly. The movie hints that there are multiple reasons for this like Kiki feeling disheartened, doubting herself, and no longer finding flying enjoyable once she used it as a means to earn an income. Ursula notes the similarities between magic and art and offers some insight when she describes getting over artist’s block after realizing she needed to figure out why she wanted to be an artist. Kiki concludes she hadn’t thought about why she wanted to be a witch and that she needs to find her own inspiration.
From the time I was little, I wanted to get into video game design or animation. In high school, I took classes I didn’t want to take because a friend had convinced me I needed them for college credits, which I thought I needed to make myself into an artist.
Then I took an animation class. I’ve done a lot of art mediums that I wasn’t particularly good at, but still found at least some enjoyment in the process and learned something from it. That wasn’t the case with animation. We did hand drawn, stop motion, and Flash animation and the only thing I learned was that I hated it.
Imagine having this lifelong dream of getting into video game design during a time when most video game animation would have been done through key frame animation and finding out that your fascination with animation is simply not enough for you to enjoy making it. It broke me.
My choices were to go into debt to pursue a career path I’d likely not enjoy or give up on this goal with no real back up plan. I kept trying to think of some way around it. Maybe I could just be a character designer. Maybe I could just work on storyboarding or the script. Maybe I could still make it work. I eventually came to the same question as Ursula and Kiki did: Why did I even want to do this in the first place?
Like Ursula, I had never given any thought as to why I wanted to be an artist. I spent my entire childhood being told that I was creative, artistic, and talented. There was always the expectation that I’d pursue an art career, but never thought about if that’s what I truly wanted. I found that I didn’t.
Even though an art career isn’t what I really wanted, I had held onto this idea of becoming a professional artist for long that it was hard to let go. Others didn’t make it easier. My friend’s mom told me “You’re wasting your talents.” A co-worker at my retail job saw the work I was doing for a cosplay and said, “You’re in the wrong business.” When I took up the cake decorating position, I got so good at it that everyone kept telling me “Open your own bakery” and didn’t care about my concerns and lack of desire about opening one. People think that if you have artistic talents or any ounce of creativity then you have to use them to turn a profit, but that awful animation class inspired me to learn the truth: you can create art simply for the enjoyment of it rather than to make a living.
Maybe Ursula came to the same conclusion when she found her own inspiration as the movie never explains if she earns her living by selling paintings. At least, I’d like to think that she did.