In part one of this article I reviewed Fanomenon in terms of how it worked as a day and also the two films Asura and Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning – If you have not read these reviews and want to, you can read them here.
The third and final film that I saw was Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children.
Hosoda’s previous features are The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, and Wolf Children has a similar lightness of touch. Hosoda stands alongside director Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimetres Per Second), mangaka Yumi Unita (Bunny Drop) and, most pertinently, Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli fame; they produce sweet, thoughtful dramas designed to charm and linger long in the memory. Wolf Children is his most resonant film yet, and a better follow up to his first film than the enjoyable but vaguely disappointing Summer Wars.
A dry young woman called Yuki narrates the tale of her mother Hana’s romance with a young man who turns out to be part-wolf. At the point of this discovery, Yuki wryly dispels any possibility of silver bullets and full-moon-inspired eviscerations, and we learn that our wolf-man is both charming and gentle. Naturally, the youthful Hana falls head over heels in love. The inevitable happens, and after the oddly cute montage of morning sickness and gifts of plundered food by our wolfish father, we are treated to daughter Yuki and son Ame chewing the dining room table and howling all night. The impracticalities of rearing her young wolf-children in the middle of Tokyo drives Hana to relocate to the mountains, and they restart their life as far away from prying eyes as possible.
Hana is a particular kind of idealised Japanese woman, and inevitably the product of a certain kind of Japanese man, who likes his girls cute yet cannily practical, dutiful yet subtly willful. Hana is a modern twist on the edict of the Tokugawan samurai Kaibara Ekken, exhorting young women to a life of humble servitude, and lamenting that the vast majority roundly ignore this ‘ideal’. For instance, is Hana’s manner towards the irascible and authoritarian Nirasaki a matter of subservience, or is she shrewdly playing him at his own game, charming him into getting the whole village to help her crack the problem of self-sufficiency in such a forbidding place?
The second part of the film shifts its focus onto Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame. Here, the story stretches a little, portraying the dilemma facing both children: should they live as wolf or human? Ame’s more Miyazaki-inflected journey is sweet though not wholly convincing, whereas Yuki’s stubborn efforts to integrate at the local elementary school have a bittersweet edge that is augmented by the tone of her narration. Her mature voice speaks from an unspecified time in the future, commentating yet never telling us how she feels. It taints her story in subtle ways. After all, society demands all sorts of sacrifices of its citizens: comparing the irrepressible little girl at the beginning of the film with its carefully modulated, even repressed narrator is far more affecting than the winsome, though perfectly enjoyable, conclusion to Ame and Hana’s stories.
An extra thought: Hana’s decision to relocate to the wilds reflects a rich subtext frequently found in anime and manga. Few cultures reflect quite so deeply on the relationship between a character and their environment as the Japanese. Watching Wolf Children, I was reminded of Yasunari Kawabata’s haunting descriptions in the novel Snow Country. In the film, the mountain both invites and repels Ame and Yuki and ultimately pushes them into conflict. In Asura, we view a dying landscape of bloody colours and we share Asura’s need to claw himself out of this hellish abyss. Both films are a distinctly Japanese experience, the kind that draws me back to anime time and time again.
Below is the official synopsis and trailer:
Wolf Children is the long-awaited new anime from Mamoru Hosoda, director of LIFF favourite Summer Wars. When Hana falls in love, it feels like a fairy tale. She starts a family and has two beautiful children – Yuki (Snow), a girl, and Ame (Rain), a boy. But the family harbours a secret: their father is a ‘Wolf-Man’ and his affliction is passed on to his children. After he passes away, Hana takes their children to grow up in a village by a forest where they must choose between becoming human or wolf. Hosoda has crafted another captivating anime with a gripping, moving story and breathtaking animation.