By James Heron
Wolf Children is writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s third major film following The Girl Who Leapt through Time and Summer Wars. It is a family film whose themes of identity will resonate with Nikkei families and the “hapa” children of kokusai kekkon mixed marriages.
Hosoda is an emerging master of modern Japanese anime and one of the young animators often compared to, and by many, expected to fill the shoes of, the great Hayao Miyazaki. His first two films are widely accepted as superb examples of the form, featuring a distinct visual palette and elaborate sci-fi plotting that never loses sight of the fundamental human underpinnings of his narratives.
Wolf Children is the story of Hana, a college student who meets a gentle young man who is also a wolf and able to transform himself from human to wolf form. They fall in love, marry and soon produce two “wolf children”: a daughter Yuki (snow) and a son Ame (rain). To hide this fact they live furtively, but happily, in a quiet corner of the city. When the wolf father passes away, a shattered Hana moves her children to a remote house in an idyllic rural village in the mountains, away from the probing eyes of city landlords and family services. The focus of the film is her raising of the children and their development into young adulthood.
Children presents a much less elaborate narrative than earlier films like Summer Wars, but instead carries a deceptive and significant depth. Like his other films, Hosoda’s extraordinary characters are grounded in a realistic everyday world and his sometimes fantastical situations play out in a very naturalistic manner.
Wolf Children is not a busy film – it is not packed with incident – but rather unfolds at a leisurely and considered pace. It is a quiet, earnest contemplation of the relations between mothers and their children, harmony within communities and, in particular, coming to terms with and choosing one’s identity. It is very much a family film but not because it contains discrete elements, some aimed at adults, others for children; but rather because of its deeply-felt, uncluttered story-telling, gorgeous visuals and relevant family themes.
James Heron’s review of Wolf Children appeared in the 2012 Holiday Issue of Nikkei Voice.