Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s computer.
When university student Hana meets a quiet, lonely man in one of her lectures, the attraction is instantaneous. She soon discovers he is the last of a family of wolf-people, but that does not change her feelings for him. They move in together and have two children, and tragically he is killed in an accident shortly after the second child is born. Hana quickly realizes her offspring are shapeshifters, with the ability to turn into wolves, and she moves her family out to the country with the hope that they’ll be safe from prying eyes and can find a way to reconcile their dichroic heritage by being closer to nature. The daughter, Yuki, is a wild and emotional child, but once she goes to school she grows into a relatively average teenage girl, embarrassed by her abilities and endeavoring to live as a human first and foremost. Her little brother Ame is a shy and scared child, but finds his confidence and self-worth in giving in to his wolf side, retreating to the mountains surrounding their home instead of attending classes. Hana works hard to both provide for her children and understand what they are going through, but worries she cannot help them without wolf-knowledge of her own.
Despite its somewhat silly premise, Wolf Children is a complex and gut-wrenching drama that truly seeks to examine the intensity, challenges, and rewards of single motherhood. I know the title insinuates that the children are the focus, but for me Hana’s character was the true standout, she’s just this phenomenal, impossibly strong woman whose struggle felt real and significant and funny and fascinating. Her kids are downright adorable as only anime kids can be, and it was a real treat to watch them grow up, but I always came back to her story, her experience. Here is a woman who is left with a daunting task, and though she is unsure of herself she remains determined to see it through. She teaches herself about medicine, home improvement, farming, animals, sewing, and anything else she might require to provide for her family, and then she GETS TO WORK. She never asks for help, but takes it as it comes when her neighbors start to offer it, and she always puts Ame’s and Yuki’s needs before her own. I’ll admit that motherhood is a foreign concept to me, an instinct I’ve never had and not a path I’ve chosen not to go down, but I felt such admiration for Hana and her incredible dedication. She is basically a superwoman and yet is never recognized for it, and in the end it was her my heart went out to as Yuki narrated their story.
Rendered in soft colors and incredibly detailed in its depiction of movement, this film is easily one of the most visually stunning animes I’ve seen. Every surface, from water and foliage to domestic interiors and urban streets, is drawn with meticulousness and obvious relish. I remember being similarly wowed by director Mamoru Hosoda’s visual mastery with his previous effort, Summer Wars, but Wolf Children‘s natural wonders are far from the techno-futuristic sheen of that film’s standout scenes, indicating an impressive dexterity in Hosoda’s artistic vision. I loved the fluidity of motion and expression, the reflective surfaces, the use of sight gags throughout to add a dose of humor. I loved the clever transitions that showed the years passing as Ame and Yuki grew up. I loved how the music perfectly matched the visual style, hitting every emotional beat until I was (unsuccessfully) holding back tears at the end.
Wolf Children is a film composed primarily of small moments, of sibling squabbles and teen angst, of motherly devotion and lingering grief. Its story is inventive and strange but its themes are universal and affecting, with a trio of compelling characters at its center and a sophisticated animation style. I found the whole thing really beautiful.
Pair This Movie With: Terminator 2: Judgment Day. No, wait! Hear me out! Wolf Children is a movie about a kickass mom who fights like hell to protect her children from outside forces who might hurt them or take them away from her. She dedicates her whole life to them and her personality adjusts itself to fit this new role. This is basically the plot of T2, only that one has robots. OR for an equally excellent Mamoru Hosoda/Satoko Okudera team-up, there’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.