Mamoru Hosoda Month-The Wolf Children

For those who unfamiliar, my introduction can be found here. Parts 1 and 2 can also be found here and here. Moving on.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time opened my eyes to the possibility that someone other than Hayao Miyazaki could direct brilliant anime films. It was a real surprise, and I’d end up watching it several times before buying it. Summer Wars, while a slight downgrade, was also great, proving Mamoru Hosoda wasn’t strictly a one-trick pony. I’d routinely be critical of it, even mocking it on my Twitter handle, but I also ended up watching it several times before buying it. By the time The Wolf Children was announced for a Western release, I was more than excited.

I ended up pre-ordering the DVD immediately, seeing as the film never made it to theatres in Toronto, yet ended up getting an early showing via, once again, illegal streaming (I was desperate, cut me some slack!) It was the day of my Winter exam in my final course of university, and I was anxious for some motivation. I watched the film literally 2 hours before I had to leave, packing up right as it ended. To say it was good is an understatement. To say it blew my mind is probably more accurate.

The Wolf Children is the story of Hana, a 19 year-old college freshie who falls in-love with a mysterious man in her class. The two instantly hit it off, but all isn’t what it seems. It turns out this man has a secret he’s been afraid to share, that he’s a werewolf that can change back-and-forth at will. After clearing up that he’s not dangerous to Hana, their relationship strengthens, eventually leading to her becoming pregnant. She bears two children, a girl named Yuki and a boy named Ame, over the next two years, and they begin a family.

Sadly, tragedy strikes. During a search for food, Hana’s partner falls into a ravine and dies. Because he was in wolf form, he’s hauled off to the dump. Heartbroken and alone, Hana’s left to raise her two children without his help, which gets complicated when Yuki and Ame prove to be a handful. Desperate to live free from her neighbours, Hana and kids move to the countryside. Ultimately, Hana learns to be a good mother, as well as when to finally let go.

Like Mamoru Hosoda’s previous efforts, the biggest compliment I can give The Wolf Children is that it looks beautiful. This was Hosoda’s first film under the newly formed Studio Chizu, and you’d think a first-time film would look cheap, but that doesn’t stop the beautiful environments and character models. But it also helps that The Wolf Children soaks in atmosphere. Ignoring that it contains one of my favourite scenes in any animated film, it knows how to stop and let scenery breathe. It sucks you in and immerses you in the lifelike backdrops, all of which are wonderfully detailed.

Musically, the movie falls into the category of “impressive, yet not really stand-alone.” It’s slightly below Summer Wars, but not by much. Composer Takagi Masakatsu still brings his A-game, giving us great pieces that compliment the more laid-back feel. And, of course, the end credits theme, “Okaasan no Uta”, is ear candy, being a simple ballad that doubles as a love song in the vein of a mother’s lullaby. It’s a great score, even if it doesn’t scream “epic” or “bombastic”.

The voice acting in the movie is, once again, fantastic. I can’t comment on the Japanese, but the dub is another home run from FUNimation Entertainment. Notable highlights include Colleen Clinkenbeard as Hana and Jad Saxton as the narrator/teenaged Yuki. Both help drive home the movie’s underlying theme of motherhood and coming of age, with Saxton’s chip-ins underscoring the film like poetry. There are occasional mis-castings with older Ame and Sohei, their dub voices sound too old, but the performances themselves more than compensate.

I love the characters in this movie. Hana is the determined mother many parents strive to be, being warm and optimistic even in times of uncertainty and fear. Her lover, while not in the film for long, turns what could’ve been a throwaway part into something special, which surprised and impressed me. But the big show-stealers are Yuki and Ame, being complex enough to resonate in their child and adolescent stages. Considering how few kids’ movies actually do that, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see characters who not only grow naturally, but whose changes happen believably.

Lastly, the major theme hits home. Narratively, The Wolf Children is Hosoda’s shallowest film. It’s not twisty like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, nor is it grand like Summer Wars. Even as a coming of age tale, Hosoda’s next film is more detailed. The Wolf Children is, essentially, an ode to growing up, nothing more.

And yet, it speaks volumes, more than the rest of Hosoda’s repertoire. I say this because mothers are the overlooked heroes of our lives. They carry us for 9 months in their stomaches, give birth to us, raise us to adulthood and then let us go when we’re old enough to take care of ourselves. It’s something we rarely stop and appreciate, but we should do it more while they’re still alive. Given that Hosoda, allegedly, based Hana on his own mother, that parallel is all the more special.

Which is why, save some jarring uses of CGI in some of the scenery shots, there’s little wrong I can say about this film. I’ve heard that it’s too long from some detractors. I’ve heard that Hana lacks personality and depth from others. I’ve even heard that The Wolf Children is overly sappy and sentimental. I don’t agree with any of these claims, as I feel it’s the perfect length, that Hana is wonderfully fleshed-out g and that the film’s sappy and sentimental nature actually serves to better-punctuate its themes about life. There’s really less “wrong” as “context specific details”, and while there are parts that could’ve been done better, namely the rushed ending, in the end I really love and respect what Hosoda’s done here.

The Wolf Children embodies everything a family film and a coming of age film should be. It marries childhood and nostalgia with maturity and adulthood, all the while not downplaying either aspect. It’s smart, funny, dramatic and even a little heartbreaking. There’s no other way of putting it: this is Hosoda’s magnum opus (at least, to-date). I give it a…

Join me next time in my thrilling conclusion, as I take you to the world of the unknown and primal with The Boy and the Beast. See you then!


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