Anna Smaill was born in Auckland in 1979. She became entranced by the violin when she was seven and decided to become a musician. She headed off to university to study performance art, but chose to concentrate on literature instead. Her love of music feeds her creative writing – her book of poems is called The Violinist in Spring and her Man Booker Prize long-listed debut novel The Chimes (published in Feb 2015) is full of melody, inspired by Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, Vladmir Gavreau’s theories on infrasound and Anna’s own memories of living in Tokyo. Below she explains why she picked Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service as her filmic alter ego. Eithne Farry
One of the benefits of taking filmic pleasure alongside a pre-schooler, as I chiefly do at present, is a steadily growing intimacy with the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki. I loved Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and others long before becoming a parent, but I only recently watched, and discovered, my aspirational alter ego in Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s a strange Ghibli film in many ways, more slowly paced and less lyrical than most of the others and, for a film about a young witch, emphatically down to earth. Kiki’s relentless difficulties form the grain and texture of the film. Kiki just can’t catch a break. In her training year as a witch, she’s intensely homesick; she struggles to make new friends; she falters in her work due to demanding customers and meteorological forces; she becomes sick. Just as things seem to improve, Kiki loses the very things that define her: her powers of flight and the connection to her talking cat, Jiji. What makes Kiki so wonderful and memorable as a character is how very brave she is in the face of this experience. I’m continually moved by how Studio Ghibli renders her face, the openness of her eyes, the inward complexity expressed in the flush along her cheeks, her halting and then hectic speech. There is a moral quality to her cheerfulness, and to her sadness.
I guess there is something in my own experience with music – the seeming failure of a formerly self-defining gift – that draws me to Kiki. I find the phenomenon of performance anxiety both horrifying and fascinating. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Malamud’s The Natural – these are the plots of inescapable nightmare. How do you sustain the thing that used to come naturally, the thing of pure fun, when it has become a profession? How do you step clear of hamstringing self-consciousness? David Foster Wallace’s essay ‘The Nature of the Fun’ essentially follows Kiki’s exact arc. But the answers in this film are radically simple in contrast to those Wallace provides. And they’re not insular but communal – those of friendship, artistic generosity and kindness. I still have much to learn from this 13-year-old witch.