Title: Wolf Children aka Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki
Company: Studio Chizu/Madhouse Studios
Format: Movie, 117 minutes.
Dates: 25 Jun 2012
Synopsis: Hana is a regular 19-year old student studying in a national university in Tokyo. One day, she notices a man who simply took notes without the aid of a textbook during a seminar and she later approaches him for not submitting his attendance slip afterwards. The two gradually grow close to each other, and later Hana learns that he is no ordinary human being; he is actually a Wolfman, and he is the last of his kind. Despite the revelation, she falls in love with him and they raise a family together soon after. However, tragedy strikes when his body was found in a storm drain one rainy day. Since then, her life has changed forever and the story depicts the sacrifices she makes to make ends meet and how she tries to raise her children Ame and Yuki by herself.
Narrative style: Feels more like a non-fictional biography than a fictional story.
Direction: Perfect balance between light-hearted comedy and sentimental drama.
Cast size: Keeping it minimal so that time is fully utilized for character development.
Characterization: Remarkable; characters’ stories are surreal yet believable.
Hosoda Mamoru: A visionary director that may someday rival even Miyazaki Hayao.
Most people would agree that when it comes to producing quality anime about family ties, Studio Ghibli pretty much sets the benchmark. The production studio and Miyazaki Hayao, arguably the most influential director in the anime industry, have constantly been churning out movies with caliber that is mostly unrivaled by other non-Ghibli titles. While I respect his contributions to anime and directorial ingenuity, I have been looking forward to the day when someone can create something that can challenge him in his own game. My wish was somewhat granted in the form of Hosoda Mamoru, an individual with a repertoire much more humble than that of Miyazaki, and his latest work is Wolf Children, a title that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with even Ghibli‘s greatest movies.
Wolf Children is a fictional story, yet it never feels like one because of the narrative style. With protagonist Yuki as the narrator, it is more like an animated biographic novel with a realistic ambiance. Even when supernatural elements are involved, the story is filled with so much down-to-earth aspects on daily life that it feels like one based on a true story. Moments such as a parent feeling contented while seeing their children eat or siblings have a fight are what touch viewers’ hearts because those are the similar experiences they had while growing up. The existence of wolfmen is but a mere theme and it plays second fiddle to the movie’s main focus: overcoming challenges both big and small as a family. The story in short is a contradiction at its finest: extraordinary yet ordinary, unbelievable yet believable, fictional yet non-fictional.
Of course, what makes the story of Wolf Children work wonders is the cast. With only a handful to explore, each of the characters gets fleshed out to the fullest and they are as real as they get. Yuki throws tantrums, often makes a mess of the house, ruins the furniture and mopes at a corner. Ame always cowers behind his big sister’s back, cries very easily and gets bullied in school. They may not be your regular children because of their canine background, yet they are no different from ordinary ones either. And then there is Hana, a central figure whom I would vote as the best character in the movie. She is your quintessential example of a strong woman: she quits her studies, make ends meet with her father’s shoestring savings, lives a meager lifestyle so that she can feed her children, makes a leap of faith by moving to the countryside, renovates a dilapidated house, learns farming the hard way and so on. And she does all that by herself. Her sheer optimism and determination render her extraordinary, yet she epitomizes what most single mothers have to put up with every day.
Wolf Children also illustrates Hosoda‘s directorial abilities both aesthetically and literally. The movie is visually spectacular: from the mountainous terrains to the lush greenery, it not only depicts the countryside gorgeously but it is also a world of difference compared to the gray suburbs that Hana and her children used to live in, and vividly contrasts the new setting and lifestyle the three had to adapt to when they had to move. There are also moments where a simple visual technique works to great effect: there is one scene portraying Ame and Yuki’s school days with the help of a continuous shot. By simply panning from left to right, it contrasts how the former gradually becomes accepted by her classmates while the latter gradually becomes gradually marginalized. Subtle yet effective, it is but one example of the potential talents displayed by Hosoda.
To say that Wolf Children is without any flaws is a stretch: there is some criticism on how the story simply ends and thus has a jarring conclusion. While I do feel that it could use a bit of a proper closure, in hindsight the ending is somewhat befitting. The running motif in the story is about the choices in life that Ame and Yuki will inevitably have to make, and how life goes on even when after life-changing events have taken place. While the ending could have been better, it is nothing more than a minor flaw to a movie that is thoroughly amazing. If I were to compare with his previous works like Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo and Summer Wars, this is arguably his best movie yet and if he can continue to make more of the same or even better, then we may have another prominent director in the making.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: AC