Wolf Children  – ★★★★
A touching, beautifully-presented story that makes a stance against discrimination, encouraging learning to live with one’s differences.
Wolf Children is a 2012 animation directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind very creative The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006) and equally inventive The Boy and the Beast (2015). This 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, the animation is still worth watching for its meticulously-crafted visuals and the innocence and charm of its plot, filled with important life lessons and the message against discrimination.
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 comes 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, too. 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 surprisingly bad 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 the 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 are 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 natural environment. Also, as in Makoto Shinkai’s recent Your Name (2016), town-living is contrasted with 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.
The animation is 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 similar to Hayao Miyazaki, with the emphasis on the innocence and sweetness of first experience, on staying strong no matter one’s 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 fortieth minute, does get 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.
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.
11 Comments Add yours
Great movie, very unique and sad.
Kind of like Beauty and the Beast meets Cat People (1982) and My Neighbor Totoro
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I never thought I’d be so impressed by it. It has this special something. Yeah, it is like the trio of films you mentioned, even though I am a tad disappointed that the beginning – the film’s “Beauty and the Beast” part was so short-lived. In the end, the film managed to carry its message effectively through though. Much appreciate your comment!
Thank-you for reviewing this – out of curiosity, did you view on Netflix?
Hello, sorry for such a late reply. Nah, I have it on a DVD, but I think it should be on Netflix.
A beautiful movie indeed. I didn’t mind the slow pacing, as it was a joy spending time with this family. How I wish I could face life’s hardships with a smile like Hana does.
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Thank you for agreeing. Hana is a great heroine, isn’t she? So optimistic in face of hardships, so caring and self-sacrificing for her children. If you read the story, it seems so fantastical, but when you watch it, the events seem so real and kind of natural-flowing.
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such a good movie!
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I am glad you agree! 🙂