Muscle memory from a misspent youth has gotten me into trouble an embarrassing amount as an adult. At some point in my late-twenties I had returned home, to scrape together some money and lick my wounds, and there was a Hayao Miazaki / Studio Ghibli run going on at the Cornell Cinema. So I met up with some friends to go see Princess Mononoke, and they were, of course, packing a bowl.
This scene was both routinely normal and highly unusual for me at that point, as I had quit smoking weed some three years earlier, while living in Taipei. I had been a habitual, unquestioning stoner for many years, but for whatever reason of change or perspective, it had started to slowly dawn on me there that the worm had turned.
When I first started smoking it was a joyous discovery, mesmerizing in its ability to get me outside of myself and away from my anxieties: Touching, tasting, listening to music, watching a cool breeze run through the grass and ripple the blades, feeling its chill wash across my skin in a wave of goosebumps — Seeing the world not from the hazed depths of myself, but from a lifted vantage up and out, through a giggling kaleidoscope of vibrating color and sensation.
Somehow though, in a twist of actual irony, it began to take me not out, but straight down and in. I would smoke weed with people, and then immediately become not just self-conscious, but self-critical. It was terrible, pure paralytic self-loathing anxiety. Eventually I reached a point of deciding to only smoke alone at home, as I had convinced myself I needed it to sleep. Then of course, I just started having these downward spiraling anxiety attacks by myself, alone in my rooftop apartment in Taipei.
Eventually, in what would become one of my first real moments of maturity, I decided to stop. I realized I was paying money — and in Taiwan, it cost kind of a lot of money — to be unhappy. So I stopped. And it turned out I didn’t need it to sleep at all; it was just like having a fan, or the humming of a fish tank in the room — it was simply something I had gotten used to, and it took a surprisingly short time to get used to its absence. Of course drinking then took off in a major way and became its own spiral, requiring its own epiphany, but that’s another story.
Anyways, I was at my friend’s place, before the Miazaki film, and they were packing a bowl, and I figured heck, if ever there was a time to get stoned again, it was before sitting in a dark theater and watching a beautiful animated movie that I had already seen and loved. So we were talking, and I took the bowl, and I took a hit, and I passed it, and it came back, and I took a hit and passed it, and so on. Muscle memory took over completely, and I was taking massive “get-fucked-up” pulls on this thing, repeatedly, as I had once done on the regular, every day. Unfortunately I did not have the tolerance of my youth. I got WAY too stoned.
So we drive up there, and I’m in the back seat fidgeting uncomfortably. And we’re sitting in the theater, and I’m super conscious of how my legs are crossed, where my hands are falling on the arm rests, wondering whether I’m taking up too much of my neighbor’s arm rest, feeling the eyes of everyone on me, feeling like I don’t know how to arrange my face, feeling like I don’t like my face, feeling like the world is closing in one me, like everything is raw unbearable discomfort, spiraling downwards all over again, feeling like…
and then I noticed there was a piano on the stage.
The Cornell Cinema is actually a beautiful theatrical space, with a big red velvet curtain, and there was a piano on the stage in front of the curtain, and a young asian woman walked out and sat down. As the hum of people continued around me, the scope of my focus narrowed suddenly to a tiny circle of light: Her sitting down, her opening sheet music, her opening the piano and adjusting her seat, her laying fingers on the keys, her closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Her beginning to play.
She played the opening music to Princess Mononoke, live, on a grand piano before a red velvet curtain, and I was suddenly exactly as stoned as I was supposed to be.
Never before or since have I had such a movie-going experience. She played the whole thing, then got up, bowed briefly, and walked off stage. The curtains opened, the lights dimmed and the movie began. If you aren’t familiar with studio Ghibli, I strongly suggest you acquaint yourself. Miazaki can be a wandering storyteller, but his films are rich, vibrant, heartfelt, and gorgeous. And the music? Well, have a listen to the ending credits of Porko Rosso — one of his earliest and least known works. Miazaki and his composer Joe Hisaishi’s meeting was a glorious accident of fate, and their constant collaboration has been a thing of shining wonder, spanning countless projects, characters, childhoods, decades.
I don’t smoke weed anymore, and honestly I far prefer my life this way. But if you feel like having a joint, for old-time’s-sake, I can say with some authority that there is still a place in this world for the reckless choices of childhood. Sometimes, even still, way too stoned turns out to be just right.
composed by Joe Hisaishi
for Studio Ghibli / Hayao Miazaki