DM Haight

The personalities of Kiki and Sen in Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Spirited Away both need to exercise their beliefs in themselves to grow as individuals. The journey of the young girl has been mentioned before, but here it will be elaborated upon. Kiki is a unique character in this aspect, far more similar to Ponyo than Sen. She has the personality, at the beginning of the film, of an adventurer, a fearless young woman ready to explore the world by herself, to gain her own experiences. But when she realizes the world isn’t the same, kind-hearted little town she came from, she finds herself looking into her pocket to grasp at change, running from police, and talking to every passerby, who find her strange and abnormal in their city. Kiki is lucky enough to find help from a baker, who gives her work and a place to live. Kiki’s first experiences in the world are life experiences that she could not expect. She finds herself falling in love, and then she falls into a depression, a questioning of her self-worth, and her purpose in life. This spawns from a seed planted by a witch Kiki flies past on the way to her new city. The witch asks what Kiki’s skill is, and Kiki almost immediately asks herself, under her breath, “What’s my skill?” The self-doubt that Kiki later faces causes her powers to dissipate, almost to the point of nonexistence. She almost loses her magic because she doesn’t believe or understand her own abilities.

This same crisis of conscience occurs with Sen, formerly known as Chihiro. She’s dragged away from her friends and family by her parents and taken to a place where she will have to re-assimilate. The move is never completed in the film, due to a side trip through a shortcut. The side trip leads to Chihiro’s parents being turned into pigs whilst they gorge themselves on foodstuffs at a shop. With her parents now actual swine, Chihiro is trapped in the spirit world, where she must work to survive. She is forced into hard labor: cleaning floors, tubs, and making comfortable strange, grotesque spirits. She has to come to terms with the ugliness of the world, has to realize that not everything is clean and orderly. Forced to grow up in the most vicious way possible: without her parents, without a sense of self, Chihiro finds herself in a place where identities are literally stripped away.

The connections between Kiki and Sen come from their support structures. They both rely on people who, before the events of the films, they had never met. Sen/Chihiro and Kiki have to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive in the worlds they have either willingly or unwillingly been cast into. Upon their placement in the societies, Kiki begins to learn how she can earn her keep, as does Sen, but the difference is that Sen rises to the challenge and performs in the hopes of redeeming her parents, while Kiki falls because she finds herself changing in ways that begin to weigh heavy on her conscience. Their tales end the same way as any fairy tale: a happily ever after, but they both find that to reach that happy ending they must first discover who they are going to be. Kiki loses her powers, only to reignite them once her friend, and apparent first love interest, Tombo, is faced with a life or death situation. The dramatic emotions within her draw out her inner strength, which kindles the fire of who she will become. She breaks from her childhood security and emerges on the side of adolescent self-reliability. Sen finds that she isn’t weak, which is the preconceived assumption. Through the challenges of her work at the bath house, and the relationships she builds, she finds herself assertive and commanding, someone who can rely on themselves for anything, someone who is willing to gamble when the odds are against her. And as the Japanese version of Kiki shows, much like the American dubbed version does for Spirited Away, to officially hit and breakthrough the wall of childhood, one must first shed the articles of childhood. For Kiki, the loss of Gigi’s voice and his reversion to being a simple black cat is her departure, the severing of her childhood from her adolescent self. For Sen, the moment of detachment from her childhood comes when the stink spirit enters the bathhouse. She takes its money, and a shiver goes up her spine. But the spirit is actually a very famous river spirit, one who has simply faced Miyazaki’s critique of pollution. Sen, alone, helps the spirit, while the others complain about wasting the best herbal formula. Sen is the one doing her best to comfort and assist. It is only through Sen’s urging and desire to help that the river spirit is released from the waste of pollution to once again fly about.

One last aspect of the Miyazaki films of this extended article is the theme of being an outsider. There are two particularly strong cases of this in the works discussed (with the exemption of Ponyo’s father, who exiled himself from humanity). Both No-Face and Turnip Head are characters that are ostracized. Sophie, of course, befriends Turnip Head, as Sen does with No-Face. But they are reluctant companions. Sophie mistakes Turnip Head for a walking stick, and she despises turnips. No-Face is a character that tries to do what he believes is good for Sen, but ultimately abuses his power. Both characters are ostracized from their societies: No-Face because of the type of spirit he is, and Turnip Head because of the curse cast upon him. They both offer up their services to the ones they perceive are kind and gentle, even though their relationships with the girls begin under questionable circumstances.

But this interesting play with the secondary characters who are isolated and caught in conditions they cannot change, brings out the theme of the outsiders in Miyazaki’s films. They are often not trust worthy, and in many genre films they are the first to be rejected by the community. The underlying message in many of Miyazaki’s works focuses on the child as the true individual. Very rarely are adults cast in these animated adventures. The majority of Miyazaki fare has children at the helm, often showing the children besting adults. When a child befriends a spirit or a scarecrow, while the rest ignore the behavior or shun it implies that children, the most trusting of us all–will be the ones who bring us together in the end. The outsider is redeemed through the child here, and so the community is also redeemed. The ostracized characters are elated with the end results. No-Face finds a home, a place where he is accepted for what he is, which happens to be with Yubaba’s twin sister, Zeniba. He even finds something he is proficient at—spinning thread! While Turnip head, although Sophie isn’t so much a child, is redeemed through his true love. Even though Sophie doesn’t reciprocate that love, Turnip Head is still changed into a prince when she kisses him. This is an obvious ode to the fairy tales of old, except here the prince is not a frog. Still, the sentiment remains the same. The outsider, the one who the society wants nothing to do with, is the one who later finds a home, a place in that society, and usually with the help of a little girl who is in obvious distress. Both the girl and the outsider need each other to lean upon while they go through their own transformation: the girl into woman, and the outsider into community member.

Miyazaki’s works have proven him a great auteur. From the simplicity of the characters, to the complexity of the messages he relays to us through his masterful narratives, Miyazaki is capable of showing the world their faults and their treasures through the difficult and yet brilliant task of animation. What many consider a film genre, Miyazaki breaks into bits and pieces, constructing for himself a subgenre that detaches him from the whole. He works off the models of Disney, but departs in so many ways that the influences are getting harder and harder to see with his developing style and technique. What audiences see in Castle in the Sky greatly differs from Ponyo, but the underlying idea and sentiment remain. Miyazaki has carved for himself a place in film history that will not be forgotten. Kiki will continue to save Tombo, and Sen will always find her parents among the pigs. What will change, hopefully, are the circumstances behind the themes that Miyazaki finds it important to critique. Even if his message is never fully accepted, it will still be obvious that Miyazaki is the Auteur of Animation, and no one can take that title from him anytime soon.

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