What does 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service have to do with millennials? Turns out, a lot.
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Transcript provided by Youtube:
What does an 80s animated movie
about a 13-year-old witch working
as a delivery girl
have to do with modern lives.
Surprisingly, Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service
is a perfect allegory for modern young creatives
trying to make it on their own.
“I guess I never gave much thought
to why I wanted to do this.
I got so caught up in all the training and stuff.”
Obviously, Miyazaki wasn’t talking about
the millennial situation specifically
when he made the movie in 1989,
but the film has some strangely
perceptive and timely insights
about how to maintain an artistic career
in today’s world.
Kiki has to work extra hard to get by
in an economy that doesn’t value her
She has to develop a work-life balance
that doesn’t completely wear her out.
The majority of young Americans
just starting their careers
say their top priority is enjoying their work
or making a difference,
not making money or learning new skills,
which had been most important to previous generations.
So Kiki reflects the creative exhaustion and ennui
of millennials trying to find
fulfilling careers today
in a world that seems set up
to discourage them.
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We’re used to aspirational, escapist stories
of young women making a name for themselves
in the big city.
But even though Kiki is a magical witch,
her story is a more grounded, gritty take
on leaving the nest and trying to set up
in a daunting new environment.
Kiki’s outsider status in her new town is visual —
she stands out in her black dress,
with her broomstick.
When you move to a big city,
people won’t actually pay much attention
to you at all,
no matter how different you look,
but you if you’re young and inexperienced,
you’ll probably feel like they’re all
looking at you and judging you.
Here Kiki’s Delivery Service makes that insecurity literal.
“They’re looking at us.”
Jiji voices the inner doubts that strike
when we’re on our own for the first time.
“Why don’t we go find another town?
I bet there are bigger and better ones,
ones that are friendlier than this.”
“Can we look for a new town?”
A big fear for anyone trying to land their first job
is that they’ll never be qualified,
interesting, or experienced enough
to get where they need to go.
Kiki’s first experience out in the real world
is talking with a more established witch-in-training.
“Could you tell me, is it really hard
to get settled into a brand new city?”
“Oh, yes, a lot can go wrong.
But since my skill is fortune telling
I can handle anything.”
This other witch is cool, confident, and composed.
She makes Kiki feel bad she doesn’t have
a “special skill.”
We see Kiki’s insecurity visually
as she fumbles with her broom.
This feeling is especially relatable
for young people today entering a flooded job market,
being told they need extra skills and experiences
they couldn’t possibly have developed
before getting their first job.
But Kiki’s self-doubt is amplified
because her competition can literally
see the future.
“And what exactly is your skill?”
“Um, well, I haven’t really decided that yet.
Jeez, what a snob.
And did you see that cat?
The nature of Kiki’s career
is what likens her most to young creatives.
“Well, I really only have one skill,
and that’s flying,
so I thought a delivery service
wouldn’t be a bad idea!”
“It’s a great idea.”
Kiki’s flying isn’t literally an “art”
the way we tend to think of the word,
but the film equates it to her friend
“When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you,
We fly with our spirit.”
“Trusting your spirit — yes, yes,
that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
That same spirit is what makes me paint,
and makes your friend bake.”
Flying is an awe-inspiring skill, obviously.
Many people say if they could have one wish granted,
it would be the ability to fly.
But like a lot of artistic pursuits,
flying on a broomstick isn’t something
Kiki’s economy deems “valuable”
in a financial sense.
It sounds absurd that if someone could really fly
they couldn’t get paid for that.
But think about how amazing it is
to be able to write a novel, paint a portrait,
or capture a beautiful landscape on film —
the vast majority of people who can do these things
don’t end up finding a career in their field.
Only about 10% of college graduates with arts degrees
earn their living as artists.
So Kiki can’t just fly for her job —
she has to adapt her art into something
she can monetize — a delivery service.
Likewise, in creative fields invest a lot of time and money
in studying and honing their crafts.
But just like Kiki, they often have to find
more mundane, pedestrian “real-world” applications
for their skills,
It’s the only way they can get paid to do something
semi-related to what they love.
“This much for me?
And it says something pretty sad about
what our world values that,
if a girl could literally fly,
she’d still probably have to get another job
to support herself.
Flying is Kiki’s all-consuming passion,
but the strain of her job begins
to kill her creative drive.
The high demand for her services
is a double-edged sword:
even though she gets to do
what she loves for a living,
she starts associating flying with drudgery,
instead of fun and personal happiness.
She realizes that her hard work isn’t appreciated,
“Hey, what did you get?”
“Oh, Grandma sent over another one of her
crummy herring pies again.”
and starts to feel frustrated and hopeless.
She loses the desire to hang out with friends
and can’t get out of bed for days.
Kiki’s depression is a lot like the creative exhaustion
that comes with pursuing an arts career.
“Flying used to be fun until I started doing it
for a living.”
Her feeling of futility causes her to lose
her abilities to fly and talk to Jiji.
Why are you talking like a cat?”
The amazing magic she once had just disappears —
Oh no, talk to me, Jiji!
You mean you can’t speak anymore?”
so here an artist’s loss of inspiration
due to burn-out becomes literal.
Kiki’s loss of flight symbolically communicates
that when you wear yourself too thin
and turn your passion into just a job
you’ll no longer be able to create.
We can connect this especially to today’s world.
With many salaried positions for people
in the arts disappearing,
artists are expected to produce and share
their word constantly, for little or no pay,
so that they have blog posts, or drawings,
or short films or what have you to share
in the new media landscape.
And this may make people feel less and less
enthusiastic about their passions.
Kiki also can’t relate to kids her age
who aren’t going through her same struggle.
“You should have seen how Tombo’s friends looked at me!”
We might compare this to how a young person
in the arts might feel about peers
in more stable, lucrative careers —
the artist might feel judged or insecure
about making less money.
In the film, the split is between
children who work and children who don’t.
“You mean she’s working at her age?”
The privileged kids who don’t work
are often the recipients of Kiki’s deliveries —
so she essentially works for them —
which can symbolize the way that artists
have to cater to rich patrons or companies
who might not respect or compensate
the art very well.
“This is dumb.”
What’s interesting about aligning the artist
with the child who has to work
is that it reverses the unfair perception
leveled at aspiring artists
that they’re somehow lazy for wanting to work
in a field they also enjoy —
in reality, creative types often have to work harder,
for a lot less money.
Kiki’s loss of her powers is doubly heartbreaking —
because she sees it as both a personal
and a career failure.
“I’m still in training to become a witch.
If I’ve lost my magic that means
I’ve lost absolutely everything!”
Her sense of self is based on her flying,
just as many young people today feel
defined by what they do.
If Kiki can’t work as a witch,
she feels she’s not herself.
The girl we meet at the beginning of the film
won’t even consider the possibility
of not making it in the city.
“If things don’t work out,
you can always come home.”
“And come back a failure?!”
But she eventually has to reckon with a moment
that all artists face —
the temptation to go home and give it all up.
“What do you mean?
You haven’t lost your magic,
“It’s become very weak, so I, well,
I think I’ve got to take a break
from my delivery work.”
Kiki’s artist friend Ursula represents a counterpoint
to the big city lifestyle.
It might be easier to stay committed to your inspiration
when you live in the woods,
whereas Kiki has to contend with a lot more
real world problems.
“Any money left, Kiki?”
Looks like all we can afford to eat now
But when she goes to visit Ursula,
Kiki learns that self-care is an important part
of the work-life
Ursula reminds Kiki that by recharging,
she can find her creativity again.
“Take long walks, look at the scenery,
doze off at noon…
don’t even think about flying.
And then, pretty soon you’ll be flying again!”
And after Kiki takes this time for herself,
she’s ready when true inspiration strikes again.
When she sees Tombo in mortal danger,
she’s immediately motivated to fly
because she knows it could save his life.
This challenge reminds her
why her flying matters,
beyond just a job for money.
“Don’t give up!
Don’t give up!”
And thanks to self-care, Kiki’s mind is clear,
unburdened by the self-doubt
that disrupted her powers.
Every artist has to go through a moment of crisis
to understand if they could live without their art,
or if they love it enough to
push through the difficulties.
“I got so caught up in all the training and stuff,
maybe I’ll have to find my own inspiration.”
Kiki comes to remember why she loves flying so much.
She wouldn’t be herself if she couldn’t
express her identity in this way
that comes most naturally to her.
In an age when young people overwhelmingly expect
their careers to define their identities,
Kiki’s commitment to doing what she loves
makes her a surprisingly relatable heroine
for modern times.
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This post was previously published on Youtube.
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