By: Izzy Cheung, Staff Writer
Mainstream media, education systems, and society tend to place an emphasis on determining individuality through work, but shun you if you find interest in something different from the “norm.” Pressure around grades, job prospects, and trying to fit in while maintaining individuality can overwhelm us. The burnout from this can be astronomical, leaving us in deep need of a break — which, as I’ve come to learn, isn’t a bad thing. Taking breaks from corporate professionalism to indulge in activities that reawaken our inner child are important, but often touted as “juvenile” when they shouldn’t be.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed everyone’s lives, my adoration of animated films produced by Disney and Studio Ghibli was something I didn’t tend to mention about myself other than within my circle of close friends. Spending hours getting lost in the magic of Princess and the Frog or Spirited Away could be seen as “childish” or even a “waste of time,” especially as a seventeen-year-old who would be graduating soon. Why would I indulge in Ponyo’s fantastical world, when I could be using my free time to further my writing career or study for a test? Our society is one that places a high priority on productivity. The more you work, the better, even if you’re burning yourself out more than Calcifer himself. I subscribed to this mindset at a young age, and still kind of do. However, taking even a small break — whether that’s a physical rest, mental reset, or recharging your social battery can do wonders for your health.
The bulk of my animated-movie-watching endeavours come from my childhood, probably up until the end of elementary school, to the start of the fall semester of 2020. The first Studio Ghibli movie I ever watched was Laputa: Castle in the Sky. My parents used to take me to Rogers video stores to rent DVDs, and one day, I happened upon a copy of it. The vibrant blue of the cover and the depiction of a floating Sheeta had stuck with me long after watching the movie. Even now, thinking about this visual conjures up the mystical sound of Joe Hisaishi’s musical mastery wrapped up in a soundtrack. I was (and still am) a big fan of Studio Ghibli’s productions — which is something that took me much longer to admit than it really should have.
Schools are like pressure cookers for stress, and it feels like almost any action you commit is relentlessly judged for value in the “real world.” The pressure of getting good grades and figuring out what to do for the rest of your life forces you to grow up pretty quickly. I ditched Kiki’s Delivery Service in favour of writing my own stories in hopes of getting published, craving the validation that would come with seeing my writing in print. While it may have helped me feel more accomplished at the time (and boosted my ego), this mindset altered my life in a way that saw me prioritizing productivity over other important facets of my life. Once we started staying home more due to COVID-19, I stopped running through life and looked at myself in the mirror.
There weren’t many positives to a global pandemic that impacts everyone to this day, but one thing I took away from it was a better understanding of myself. Being stuck at home with limited contact with the rest of society forced me into a standstill. It encouraged me to take a break from life, to forget about the future, and fill my time with something other than work. Without the prying eyes of society or the high-paced productivity rate of others around me, I could spirit myself away, into the world of childhood nostalgia. It was then that I opened up my laptop and watched Castle in the Sky again for the first time in years.
Finding myself without interference from outside forces allowed me to come to the realization that, frankly, we should care less about what other people think. At the end of the day, who cares if you want to live in a moving castle with a wizard like Howl? Even with my so-called “childish” interests, I’ve still managed to land myself some pretty sweet jobs and make amazing friends who don’t see these as flaws. So now, as the fall semester approaches and life gets busier, I’ll gladly brew myself a cup of tea and take a break with Totoro.