The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki came highly recommended to me by one of my Ph.D. dissertation committee members, the philosopher-poet Frederick Turner. As a result, many years ago, before I even had children, I bought Ponyo. Ponyo is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and when I showed it to Daniel, he became obsessed with the film. He has watched it probably dozens of times.
Because Daniel loves Ponyo, I decided to get him three more Miyazaki films for Christmas: Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke. He likes the movies in exactly that order. He likes Princess Mononoke the least because, I think, there are neither clear-cut good guys nor bad guys; rather, practically everyone is somewhere in the gray, and the main character is primarily seeking to reconcile all parties. Daniel in no small part loves all the Star Wars movies precisely because there’s no question who the good guys and bad guys are (though he does love Darth Maul, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren the most). Princess Mononoke doesn’t provide him with that kind of clarity. Nausicaa is much less ambiguous. There is a good princess and a bad princess–both warriors–and a clear set of problems. Spirited Away is a very complex film set in a fantastical world that drives Daniel to question, question, question.
Today Daniel is watching Nausicaa for the third time. Before I pushed play, Daniel said to me, “Please don’t tell any of my friends that I like a princess movie.”
I of course told him it’s okay to like a “princess movie.” But the fact that he’s even remotely concerned about how people might think of him is a significant development for him. Still, he’s not concerned enough to not want to watch it and to not like it. Which makes him quite different from his younger brother who, when it comes to things like “princess movies,” is a pretty hard-core chauvinist (he’s only 5, but we’re working on that). In that sense, Daniel is going to like whatever he likes. And let’s face it, that kind of freedom is one of the best things about being autistic.