Review – Wolf Children

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we take a look at Director Mamoru Hosoda’s latest work, a touching story about a mother who struggles to raise her two half-wolf children well.

I’ve been a big fan of Hosoda since his feature debut The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. His second work Summer Wars was also a critical and commercial success and cemented him as one of the best anime directors today. As Will pointed out to me, that movie takes a lot of inspiration from his earlier work on the Digimon movie, and the similarities between the two are many. I’ve only recently seen that movie, and that was after I had watched Summer Wars several months earlier. Summer Wars features a lot of concepts that show up in the Digimon movie, but fully realized.

Wolf Children is about a woman raising her half-wolf children. And yes, she does it with a Wolfman. Thankfully, it’s not the teen angsty stuff you would see in Twilight, and takes its premise seriously. There is not one scene with the Wolfman taking his shirt off and showing off his six-pack to Hana, which would actually be somewhat amusing if not totally absurd in accordance with the tone of this movie. It’s got humor, sure, but it’s very much a drama about growing up in a world where being different is looked down upon.

The movie begins by introducing us to Hana, a young 19-year-old college student who is by any other means ordinary. All of that changes when she notices a young man in her class and instantly falls in love with him. Though initially awkward, she manages to strike a friendship with him over the course of the next few months. One evening, he reveals that he is actually a Wolfman, possibly the last of his kind, and that he was afraid of what she would think of him if he revealed his true form. Her opinion of him however doesn’t change, and with that, the two end up marrying and having two children.

photo-Les-Enfants-loups-Ame-Yuki-Okami-kodomo-no-ame-to-yuki-2012-6The first 20 mins or so of the movie really helps establish the relationship between Hana and the Wolfman before their children are born. She is a hopelessly naive woman at the start of the story who always puts on a smile even when things get difficult for her. The Wolfman is initially aloof and cold during their first meeting, but gradually begins to open up to her as they spend time together. Watching the two develop a romantic relationship is done mostly through montage, but it was effective in establishing just how much they grew to love each other. It’s like the opening sequence of Up where we see Carl and Ellie’s entire married life together.

And like Carl and Ellie’s marriage, this one ends in tragedy. Shortly after their second child is born, the Wolfman tragically dies in an accident. Suddenly left alone to raise two children together and fearful of having her children grow up in the city, she packs up and moves into the rural countryside to start a new life. Free from the worries of prying neighbors and child services, Hana hopes that living in the countryside will be a good influence on her two children, and will allow them to decide whether to be human or wolf.

Despite the fantastical elements, it never once feels too unrealistic in the way it presents Hana’s family. It’s very much about raising children as a single mother, but it’s also about the external and internal pressures in raising your children well. Hana, with her ever optimistic outlook, never once complains about her situation. She renovates the run-down home that they move into, learns how to grow crops (through a lot of trial and error, plus help from the grumpiest man in the village), and keeps her children well-fed and healthy. Having a strong-willed female protagonist such as Hana reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s heroines, and it was nice to see Hana grow into such a strong mother throughout the film, without having a male presence step in to “save” her.

Her two children, the titular Ame and Yuki, have great character arcs as well. We get to watch them from the moment they are born up until they reach middle-school age as they mature and come to terms with themselves. Yuki, whose older self serves as the narrator looking back on her mother’s life, is a young and energetic child who prefers running around in the grass and making a big mess for Hana to clean up after. In contrast with her tomboyish personality, her younger brother Ame is very quiet and introverted, and is the most clingy to his mother. As they get older, the question of whether they should be human or wolf forces them to figure out the type of person they want to be in the future, and it becomes a central question of their characters later on that leads to hardship and heartbreak.

Hosoda’s preference for character interaction pays off greatly in this movie. Like in his other works, he presents us with characters who are forced through circumstance to grow up and mature. Hana of course matures to become a strong mother to her children in order to raise them her own way and provide for them the foundations for living on their own someday. We also see Ame and Yuki mature as they deal with their human/wolf heritage and end up choosing one over the other. Scenes of quiet contemplation and lingering focus on their lives reminds us that this is about an unusual family struggling to survive in the harsh world of modern society.

Overall, I loved Wolf Children. The narrative can be a bit predictable and the ending is somewhat abrupt, but what we have is a compelling family drama about a woman’s intense love for her two children. It’s a simple story that I’m sure has been told before, but Hosoda brings his own unique touch to it. The fluid animation and subtle score bring together a well-put together story that I’m sure anyone with a sense of maturity will enjoy.

Lingering thoughts:

  • I’ll admit, I was slightly taken aback at the love scene between Hana and the Wolfman.
  • Still, it’s a better love story than Twilight.
  • If you were either Ame or Yuki, would you choose to be human, wolf, or embrace both as who you are?
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