Waxing Philosophical: Kiki’s Delivery Service and Burnout

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Kiki’s Delivery Service is the quintessential animated witch movie, brimming with magic, energy, and the imagination of Hayao Miyazaki. It’s been a while since I got the chance to sit down and watch this one, so I thought this month might be the perfect time and atmosphere to revisit one of Miyazaki’s most popular movies. I have to say, I definitely forgot much of the finer details, and I never realized just how universally adult some of the themes are. It’s definitely something that is supposed to be marketed towards a younger audience, given the age of Kiki and the general themes around adolescence and growing up. But what I wasn’t expecting was how this movie could relate to the issues affecting an older audience. Miyazaki was known to create stories that appealed to a wide audience, with themes like environmentalism, religion, family, and politics.  And while the movies almost always seemed like they were made for a younger audience, they may also be speaking to a generation plagued by political and economic unrest, long work hours, and a desire to find a purpose in life.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the story of young Kiki who has just turned 13 years old, which means that according to family tradition she has to move out of her home and city to complete her training as a full-fledged which. For at least one year, Kiki has to move to a new place and work to establish her mark on the community. And on one perfect full moon night, Kiki heads out in search of the perfect place with her best black cat friend Gigi. She winds up finding a beautiful coastal town, and after a bit of searching, finds a bakery that needs a delivery girl. And so Kiki’s Delivery Service is in business and begins making her own place in the community.

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I’m not planning on doing a full review of this film. I’m sure you’ve all seen it before (some of you even more than once), considering it came out in 1989. However, what I do want to talk about briefly was these universal themes I mentioned above, because I noticed one specific theme that I think a lot of us can relate to: burnout and the quest to find passion in our work.

Kiki’s one talent and passion that she displays throughout the movie is her flying ability. It’s why she starts her business to deliver anything and everything throughout town to her customers. Her talents help her to survive in a new place and make a name for herself, but we all know the dangers of turning a talent into a career.

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Burnout is a huge danger to many career professionals, especially creative types who try and make something their passionate about into something they can use to make a living. I know I was always scared of that happening at various moments in my life. I thought for a short while about making fine arts into a career, but was way too worried that I would wind up losing the passion I had for my art if I suddenly tied it to my ability to eat and keep a roof over my head. The same thing has happened on and off while running this blog as well. I’ve definitely experienced a sense of burn-out at times as my day job begins to conflict with my writing as more and more of my energy is consigned to work and not creative pursuits. It’s definitely a challenge keeping those things balanced.

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At one point in the movie, Kiki begins to lose her ability to fly, something she’s held so much passion for over the course of her life. You see, when witch’s use magic, it comes from their desire, the strong feelings that come from their soul. Kiki had begun to lose the ability to find any desire in her magic. I think she says that she has started to lose some of her love of flying now that she does it every day for work. It’s only through a long rest at a friend’s woodsy cabin, where no magic was practiced, and a harrowing accident and rescue that she found a reason to love magic and flying again. It was a sequence of events that included a long break, speaking to people who were kind to her, and then using her magic to do some good for the community and her friend that her desire and the love she held in her soul for flight was rekindled.

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Besides self-care, it was finding validation through others’ opinions of her and her work that also helped spurn her to a faster recovery. The little old ladies who were so kind to Kiki even though their granddaughter wasn’t, saw the value of her work in connecting people and their heartfelt gifts. They also gave Kiki a new perspective on flying and flight in general, as one of them talked excitedly about Kiki’s abilities, giving her a new perspective on her own abilities. Then there’s her friend with the cabin in the woods, who showed her how to balance her energy by taking her away from the bustling world and giving her more insight on what it was like being a creative person trying to overcome blocks. And then there was Tombo who was generally overflowing with passion for flying, validating and praising her abilities every second he could out of just pure good will. I think it’s with him that Kiki can see just how fun flying can be again.

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It’s a classic case of burnout that is cured through a period of self care, rest, and emotionally charged action. It’s a surprisingly modern theme for something written in the 1980’s, though I guess burnout has always been an issue for people when it comes to their work. And I think those sentiments might be even more relevant to someone like Miyazaki who lives in one of the toughest countries when it comes to working hours and regulations and one of the toughest industries that is known for pushing their employees to the limit for less money than they should be paid. Maybe some of this sentiment found its way into this movie, into the character of Kiki, who is just trying to hold onto the passion and childhood enjoyment of something she loves as she grows up and learns the harsh realities of the world around her.

Kiki’s Delivery Service and Miyazaki as its creator have given us a movie that transcends generations and hits at the heart of a very real issue, wrapping it in a magical but no less relevant package. I hope you all enjoyed this last October Special. Let me know down in the comments what you thought and any ideas you might have for next year. Enjoy your Halloween!

~~Thanks for Reading~~


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