Feminist Flashback: Kiki’s Delivery Service (circa 1989)
They say that your favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie is always the first one you watch, and I am at least one example of this phenomenon. I saw the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service when I was twelve and staying at my Grandmother’s air conditioned apartment while we were visiting family in a very humid Illinois. I remember it vividly because I had never watched a movie like this before, and the memory of that first experience has been tucked into my “cherished” folder. Kiki’s Delivery Service is undoubtedly my favorite Hayao Miyazaki film (although MANY of them tie for second place).
I watched the movie on a small, old television whose only blessing was that it had cable hooked up to it. I turned the DIAL to the Disney Channel, and lay on my stomach on the cushy beige carpet with my arms wrapped around a green, foamy blanket folded into a pillow. My face was flush from the summer heat and my white blonde hair stuck to my pudgy baby-fat cheeks because of my profuse sweating. As the A/C cooled off my skin, the magic of Kiki’s Delivery Service opened my eyes to a completely different, and inclusive kind of storytelling.
Because, if you aren’t familiar with his work, Hayao Miyazaki is a roaring feminist and the majority of his films feature a complicated, realistic girl or woman as the main character.
- “Hayao Miyazaki: the great feminist filmmaker of his time” at Screen Robot
- “THE FEMINISM OF HAYAO MIYAZAKI AND SPIRITED AWAY” at Bitch Media
The truth is though, I had no understanding of feminism when I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time. If you had interviewed me after watching it, I’m sure my critique would have been a simple “I really liked that movie.” But the movie spoke to me deeply, even if I had no vocabulary to explain why, because it was the first time I had seen a film so free of sexism and so willing to let the women and girls be people. Did I have other favorite movies? I certainly did, but this movie sticks out in my memory and I believe the feminism is the reason why.
Here’s how it stands up to the HerStoryArc Scale of Inclusivity:
- Not offensive to women 1/1 points
- Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character 2/2 points
- Passes the Bechdel Test 3/3 points
- Artistic and/or entertaining 4/4 points
- Above and beyond general media 5/5 points
- Total points = 15/15 or 100%
I had to refresh my memory of some of the details, and as they become sharper in my mind I find myself renewing my love and adoration for this film. For starters, the women of Kiki’s Delivery Service are more numerous than I remembered. Here they are in chronological order:
Kiki’s mother and father, grandmother and neighborhood friends who see Kiki off as she embarks on her year abroad as a young witch. It is a coming of age ritual Kiki must fulfill in order to become an adult in the witch community. The world she lives in is a fictional Europe where WWII never happened, which makes the audience yearn for answers to “what ifs.”
The snobby older witch Kiki flies into that same night, who is on her way home from her year long journey. She is “too cool” and “too adult” to humor Kiki’s curiosity and offers nothing in the way of friendship.
The pregnant breadshop owner, who really is VERY pregnant, and yet that hardly factors into her daily life as she runs her busy and successful bakery. She is a no nonsense woman with her heart on her sleeve who instantly takes a liking to Kiki.
The old lady Kiki delivers bread to, and the old lady’s servant Bertha, are kind and tough old women. Bertha is remarkably spry and giddy, going so far as to change a light bulb balancing precariously on a chair and jumping up and down while watching events unfold on the television.
The disappointing granddaughter of the kind old lady that Kiki delivers a birthday present to serves as an example to Kiki of how NOT to be a good person.
The artist in the woods that lives in a log cabin by herself and her paint supplies. The crows in the trees are her only company until a morose Kiki stumbles in, desperately in need of a shoulder to cry on.
And then there is Kiki herself. She is a thirteen year old girl on the verge of adulthood with the tender heart of an idealistic, friendly child. She is naive in the best ways possible, and the story takes us through her transformation as she butts up against the harsher realities of adult life. Fortunately, she comes through to the other side with her characteristic cheerfulness intact and a better understanding of how to survive the problems that inevitably rear their ugly heads. One of the things I love about the film is her friendship with a young boy that could develop into a relationship when they are older. However, in the film their friendship is a vehicle for Kiki’s discovery of what is important to her. It is not a “boy meets girl” story. Rather, Kiki explores what it is like to have a friend who is a boy and what that means to her, and how she feels about it.
You know what? I think I’ll go home tonight and watch it again. If you haven’t watched any of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films before, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a great gateway drug into an amazing world of storytelling and feminism. If you want to add some flavor to your viewing party, check out this website that recreated all the dishes eaten in the movie!