Ghibli Studio and director Hayao Miyazaki are no strangers to solving real-world problems through whimsical films, and Kiki’s Delivery Service Is no exception. Compared to the darker themes seen in movies like Princess Mononoke and Tomb of the Fireflies, Kiki’s mistakes seem mundane and petty. In fact, this film is as impactful as any other Ghibli story, especially when viewed through the lens of Japan’s harsh work culture.
Kiki is a kind girl who works hard to become a new independent witch. For most of the film’s length, viewers are captivated by her optimism and work ethic. But as Kiki continued to push himself, the consistent tension began to take its toll. Soon, in Kiki’s saddest moment, she loses her strength, sense of self, and the ability to talk to her inseparable familiar cat, Jiji.
Kiki burnout is a common problem among Japanese workers
This exhausted Kiki face is not uncommon. Her inability to allow herself to rest is a reflection of increasingly normalized behaviors in the real world, especially the stressful work culture in Japan. Overwork is so considered an everyday occurrence that the term karoshi, “death from overwork,” was coined in Japan. Work is so ingrained in Japanese culture that the workplace can be considered family, even if employees have a real family waiting at home. Although Kiki doesn’t actually die from stress, she does die in such a way that she loses her powers. The most heartbreaking thing was when she realized she couldn’t talk to Jiji anymore, losing the last remaining members of her family.
However, Kiki’s story assures those struggling with burnout that all is not lost. It takes time, but with rest and introspection, Kiki can regain her powers when she needs them most. She shows viewers that they can find themselves, too, as long as they take a step back and give themselves the respite they need. Other anime are also pushing to spread the message. Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead recently forced its protagonist to give up his unbearable job and focus on himself by throwing him into a zombie apocalypse. Instead of ruining his life, the change of pace is said to make it more fulfilling. It was a harsh but valuable lesson for Akira as well as the viewers.
Studio Ghibli has sent a powerful message for mental health
While it may not deal with dark or serious themes like other films in Studio Ghibli’s catalog, Kiki’s Delivery Service’s message is equally valid. As the obligations of modern life continue to consume people’s time and energy, reminders of what to expect without taking time to rest become more important. Hard work and determination are precious, but work is not the end goal, but the whole of one’s existence. Excellent work done by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli with Kiki’s Delivery Service has helped many people realize that taking time to step back and relax is sometimes the most important thing in the world.