Hayao Miyazaki knows how to create films that speak to and resonate with voiceless girls drowning in a sea of adult condescension. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), an anime about thirteen-year-old Kiki, a young witch who (literally) flies away from her family and home in order to go find her own place in the world, has been and always will be my favorite movie, with Spirited Away coming in as a close second. Spirited Away (2001) is an anime about ten year old Chihiro. She and her parents are on their way to moving to a new neighborhood when Chihiro finds herself accidentally “spirited away” to a land where parents turn into pigs, her own name is taken from her, boys turn into dragons, and faceless spirits roam bathhouses run by witches.
The reason these two films resonated with me so much as a young girl was that more than seeing myself reflected in Kiki and Chihiro, I saw my parents and adults in general reflected in the character’s parents and how they treated their daughters versus how their daughters wanted and needed to be treated.
More than anything, thirteen-year-old Kiki wants to earn her wings (or in this case, broom). In the film, the broom is symbolic of Kiki’s development as not just a young witch, but a capable girl/woman. The broom’s efficiency mirrors Kiki’s ability to have faith in herself. In the beginning of the film when she was leaving home, it was unsteady, but flew. When she finally found a city she connected with and began to settle in, her flying became a lot smoother. But things started happening to her flying abilities when she lost confidence in herself…
Flying away on her broom is a rite of passage that Kiki feels she is ready to take. More than that, it is a rite she needs to take on a palpable level. Kiki wants to have the opportunity to be independent and go on her own adventures. But even though it’s time for her to fly away, her overprotective mom wants to think of any excuse to rationalize the fallacy of Kiki not being “ready.” Which is what it felt like I was constantly being told at thirteen. You want to do that? Alone? No. Absolutely not. You are not ready yet!
I would be so angry, frustrated, and confused. I was thirteen! It was time for me to be able to do all the things I wanted to. I finally had a “teen” at the end of my age and what was the point of it if I couldn’t do anything? What was the point of being a teenager if I was just going to be treated as if I wasn’t one? What did it even mean to be “ready”? What was I, a tomato being watched for signs of ripeness?
I wanted to be like Kiki. I wanted to be able to say, “It’s time. I am of the age where I need to leave and you need to get that.” I wanted to be able to have someone cringe when I fell off my broomstick but ultimately understand that I needed to be on it in the first place.
Hayao Miyazaki knows how to appeal to the wistfulness of youth, but he also knows how to appeal to the anger, fear, and resentment that can grow out of such wistfulness. Something that can be seen and felt more in Spirited Away. I will always love Kiki, but the sad truth is, I wasn’t her and I wasn’t able to go on a great adventure and go off and do what I wanted. I was stuck, and when you are a teenager and feel stuck, you start to put the blame on your parents, teachers, and the adult world in general. Every time I saw Spirited Away and saw Chihiro’s parents turned into pigs, animals who didn’t listen no matter how much she yelled, who would provide her with no help in the upcoming adventure, I felt myself looking away from the screen, peeking into the kitchen and seeing my parents. They could not begin to comprehend what I was going through, and it truly felt like they didn’t hear me when I spoke. That I might as well have been voiceless, much like how Chihiro was voiceless in the decision her parents made to relocate in the beginning of the movie.
I never really appreciated the ending of these movies until I hit my twenties though. When I was in my teens and saw myself reflected in the magic of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away, I only saw the beginning and the middle, even after seeing the end. I could only see the adventure, the magic, and the uselessness of the adults. By the end, it was easy to overlook the fact that the adults were still there. They still had a purpose: to show that the characters gained perspective. That they had someone to write home to or reunite with, someone who could perceive their growth, someone who they wanted to prove themselves to, or fight for.
I’m in my twenties now, and I realize that even though I resented my parents and felt like I had no voice, I was not the only one. I was one of a million voiceless girls, a million flying Kikis, a million Chihiros skyrocketing down the sky with their dragon boys. We weren’t skyrocketing into nothingness, flying into a void, writing to a false address we were going towards something. That something we were going towards was a becoming. This becoming was the thing that scared the adults in our lives so much. What happens to the role adults play, when their girls become women?
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