wrymereo’s review published on Letterboxd:
It is sometimes said that of all of Studio Ghibli's protagonists, Kiki is by far the most relatable of them all. I happily agree with that. It is yet another successful addition to Ghibli's coming-of-age line-ups - but even more importantly - it is a film that may appear deceptively simple on the surface, while holding far more serious themes underneath. 'Kiki' and the lesser known gem 'Whisper of the Heart' are both one of the better films that celebrate the work and passion of artists, at the same time acknowledging the burnout and crises that come with them.
And while 'Whisper' does that in a much more grounded way, 'Kiki' approaches that through magical realism. I saw this film at a time when I was living thousands of miles away from home, trying to make my way of living and trying to write. Struggling to make friends or any meaningful social connections. The same experience that I suspect many people have and will go through. Indeed I was watching myself as I watched this movie.
"I think something's wrong with me. I make friends and then suddenly I can't bear to be with any of them.
Kiki says at one point. And I swear I say that myself a lot. Thia idea of finding one's own self in the world and finding a balance between making a living and loving what you do is arguably 'Kiki's' Best achievement. When Kiki first lands in her town, she immediately attracts the attention of a few girls who look at her like an odd zoo animal. She is unable to make new friends because she's the new girl, awkward and unassuming. She does befriend a boy who shares the same passion as hers - of flying. But since her confidence has taken a hit, she can't face his friends. It's all too much in too little time.
Indeed, once Kiki establishes her new life and her new job, she soon finds her inspiration dwindling away. As she struggles everyday, getting drenched every night trying to deliver goods and working her ass off to make a living she looks at the lives of other girls her age; birthday parties, spending time with friends, pretty clothes and gifts.
There's a good, long 15 mins sequence which is, to me, the heart of the film. Kiki loses faith in her art and is extremely critical of herself - and this is especially shownin a genius way by the way *and be prepared there are SPOILERS ahead* that she is unable to understand her cat, Jiji hereafter. In fact after this breakdown, she never hears from her cat again. Up until that point, Jiji was her best friend. Perhaps the only friend. And because of that she was too dependent on her cat for company. The comfort of Jiji made her feel that she didn't really need to more new friends because of course she will always have her best friend, right? Wrong. As we see, and as happens in real life, Jiji himself finds another friend and slowly drifts away. This leaves Kiki in a very emotionally vulnerable state. And then of course Ursula, the countryside acquaintance she had made earlier drops by to take her away for a break and the best part of the film kicks in.
Ursula removes Kiki from her ordinary life to give her a new perspective, the two women discuss the similarities of art and magic, and for the first time the young witch is able to see her life from a distance. It is this trip that makes her realize that working relentlessly for too long will obviously result in the artist's block.
"Flying used to be fun until I started doing it for a living." goes another quote, echoing the eternal struggle of the artist. To make a living vs to stay true to their art. Ursula shows Kiki her own art. And finally, Kiki's own inspiration is sparked from another artist as she realizes that she's more than just the town artist.
By the end, Kiki has gained a lot of new friends and is happy in her job having gained the insight that her magic will only keep growing and changing with her. She never ends up understanding Jiji again. But this is shown as a sign of growth. Kiki is no longer solely dependent on Jiji for her happiness. The most important thing for Kiki is whether she can meet various people on her own. As long as she is flying on the broom with her cat, she is free. But, to live in a town, to get training means that she has to be able to walk the town alone and talk to people, without her broom or her cat. Kiki and Jiji can start a new relationship as independent personalities. They remain friends, with other meaningful relationships added on.
And that in itself is the beauty of 'Kiki's Delivery Service' a coming of age story like no other, that despite being the most fun-filled slice of life for kids, holds oodles of subtle subtexts regarding art and the artists and the nature of growing up and us finding our identity and place in this ever growing world. And that is what makes Kiki one of the most instantly relatable characters ever.