Wolf Children (2012)
“Wolf Children” is a 2012 animation directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind the very creative “The Girl Who Leapt through Time” (2006) and the equally inventive “The Boy and the Beast” (2015). The film is about a young girl Hana who meets a wolf-man and has two adorable wolf-children. After the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Hana has to confront the challenging reality of bringing up two very unconventional children. Although “Wolf Children” may put off those who are after a conventional story with villains, its meticulously-crafted looks, and the innocence and charm of its plot, with important life lessons, still mean that this is the animation to watch.
The film starts with the narrator saying that “this story is about [her] mother who fell in love with the wolf”, an unbelievable story. Here, in the beginning, the film manages to instil some kind of a romantic intrigue. At first, Hana is a student at a national university of Tokyo, where she becomes fascinated by one young man who seems “out of place” in a lecture room, having no books with him, but who “was diligently taking notes”. This tall young man who becomes to mean so much for Hana is actually the pivotal mystery of the film, as he talks about “wanting to have a home” and describes his loneliness in the world. The romance between him and Hana is beautifully presented with the nice piano accompaniment as the duo explores Tokyo and each other.
It would have been a mundane story if it were just Hana and her love interest – beauty-and-a-beast-like, but at the centre of this story is Hana’s children, as much as her sole self. Thus, later on, Hana and wolf-man have two children, and when the children are young, the wolf-man dies. Now, his death is treated atrociously in the film, and it would have been better if it were just an accident. Finding her life with the children overbearing, Hana moves with them from the town to the countryside, but problems persist there. Although the premise is fantastical, the story is actually more relatable than first meets an eye, from its demonstrations of the timid nature of first love to showing the daily struggles of raising a family. Despite all the fantasy in the film, it still feels believable on an emotional, human level. For example, there is this main idea of accepting people for who they are and not being afraid of, or embarrassed by, one’s differences. At the centre of the story is two children who are unlike anyone else, from their genetic make-up to their mentality and behaviour, and the story is all about showing compassion and love, even in challenging situations, and overcoming discrimination. At one moment, Hana asks her children: “If you could be one thing – people or wolves, what would you want to be?” She wants them to have this choice. At the end of the film, the message is again accepting who you truly are, and letting go of the past.
The film is written in a Japanese animation tradition. As in Isao Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” (1991), a lot of emphasis in “Wolf Children” is on nature, agriculture and the man’s relationship with his natural environment. Also, as in Makoto Shinkai’s recent “Your Name” (2016), the town living is contrasted with the village living, emphasizing the hardship of a village life, but also its many benefits. When Hana buys a county home, she does not realise at first the true magnitude of the change from her city life, but she overcomes everything with the fighting spirit, from the possibility of hunger and agricultural failures to unfriendly neighbours. Here, lies another lesson of the film – staying true to one’s calling and never giving up. As Hana is so optimistic, friendly and open to others, it is impossible not to love her as a character. As a single mother, Hana teaches her children the best she can, trying to connect herself and her children with nature to give them the best shot in life.
Although there are no elaborate graphics in “Wolf Children”, the animation is still very beautiful to look at, and the music composed by Takagi Masakatsu makes many scenes emotional. The film’s atmosphere reminds that of Makoto Shinkai or Isao Takahata with their often simple lines, and atmospheric scenes, for example, long shots of starry skies, high buildings or beautiful sunsets. However, the content of “Wolf Children” is totally like that of Hayao Miyazaki, with the emphasis on the innocence and sweetness of first experience, on staying strong no matter the challenges, and on the importance of family and friendship ties in one’s life.
On the negative side, the film does feel too long for its story, and into its 40th minute it gets incredibly slow, repetitive and predictable. Despite the fact that it is interesting to watch the rearing of wolf-children and the daily challenges which this may entail, perhaps, more of the film’s time should have been spent getting to know the children’s father, as he remains a complete mystery throughout. Also, much like Miyazaki’s “My Neighbour Totoro” (1988) and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989), the main antagonist in this film is the hard circumstances /life challenges, with pouring rain sometimes providing the backdrop to the story’s drama, which is the family/ friends discord or problems at school at best.
This film may be underseen, given that the title suggests some fairy-tale or dangerous transformations. However, in fact, “Wolf Children” is very heart-warming; has an interesting premise; and boasts beautiful presentation. In its messages, the film is relatable, genuine and true-to-life. Although it runs out of ideas half-way through, it still manages to come across as satisfying and inspiring upon watching. It is especially recommended for those who has seen and loved “My Neighbour Totoro”, but those who are into romantic, slightly alternative, slow-paced animations will also find a lot to like here. 8/10