Sorry about the lack of a Sunday post: I took a surprise trip to Comic Con, and it was tons of fun!
There are four Japanese animation directors that I will follow faithfully until the day I die, and I can even categorize them for you:
- Shinichiro Watanabe: the action-adventure flicks
- Hayao Miyazaki: the epic fantasy dreamer
- Satoshi Kon: delves into the surrealist states
…and Mamoru Hosoda: the family-man filmmaker.
I’ve already reviewed one of Hosoda’s films before: “Summer Wars”. If you haven’t seen my review for that yet, you can take a look at it HERE.
I feel that a lot of Hosoda’s films resonate with me so well because of my background. I came from a very big, very rambunctious, and loving family. We all have our quirks and conflicts, but we get along in the end. Hosoda loves to draw on these interesting familial relationships in his films, and then throw in a fantastical element. With “Summer Wars” it was the world of OZ, and for “Girl Who Leapt Through Time” it was the ability to time-leap itself. For “Wolf Children,” Hosoda takes a look at the life of a single mother, but with a twist: as the title suggests, her children are part-wolf.
But in spite of these fantasy elements, they aren’t the thing we remember most from his films. Instead we are drawn into the drama between the characters, their personal issues and how they interact. Hosoda’s characters have a more “spastic” quality, like how we act in real life: we trip, we fall, we swing each other around, we burst out with energy, and curl inward when we’re sad. Miyazaki and Kon also have this attention to detail in their films, but with Hosoda’s more raw character designs they tend to feel more human than the former’s films.
The mother doesn’t die! That’s a first.
The popular plot device that Disney fans love to point out is their prediction of which parent is going to die first. Granted, this is not a Disney film, but more often it’s the mother who dies. “Wolf Children” is the story of Hana, who meets a young man in college and falls in love with him. He reveals to her that he is a wolf-man (not a werewolf! He can morph anytime), but she accepts who he is and together they decide to build a family. However, soon after the birth of their second child, the wolf-man tragically dies in an accident, leaving her to raise two wolf-children, Yuki and Ame, on her own.
What I found interesting about this approach was how it challenges today’s perceptions on love and relationships. We see promiscuous characters on TV, the rising divorce rate, and the stigma of pregnancy out of wedlock on every corner. But what I loved about Hana and the unnamed wolf-man was that she willingly chose to forgo her path in life to be with him. It’s very fairytale-like: the narrator of the film states that Hana could have been anything she wanted, and she chose to be a mother. That says a lot in today’s society, especially here in America where there’s mounting pressure to find your life’s ambition as early as elementary school.
We could get into more political elements, but that’s a deeper rabbit hole for another time. All in all, I loved how simply their relationship was portrayed, even for just a few scenes. It’s a similar technique that was employed in films like “Up” or “Lion King,” where you can see how deep the love is between a couple without needing words.
Is This Movie for Kids?
I would argue that it’s for kids and adults, especially those in their early twenties. It’s fascinating how small this film really is, and how the simplicity is balanced out by the fantastical wolf element along with brightly colored animation to hold your attention. There are a lot of emotional moments that even children will understand, and adults can relate to. Just take a look at some of the scenes featured in the clips below:
It Takes a Village
My favorite parts of the movie were when Hana was living on the farm and she would occasionally get assistance from neighbors. It’s not the most exciting thing to see, watching a woman struggle with plowing and growing vegetables. But that “village” mentality plays a role in how Yuki and Ame make their decisions in the climax.
It also challenges parenting: how do you raise a child, or a wolf-child for that matter? How do these children decide which side of themselves is the instinct they should follow? In this charged time when public “mom-shaming” on social media is popular, I’m glad that this film exists. It peels back the layers of motherhood (and single motherhood), and showcases what should truly matter when raising a child: knowing when it’s time to let them make their own choices. Hana does her best to show her children right from wrong, but even she struggles to let go in the end.
Hug Your Mom, Damn It!
Hana made tons of sacrifices along the way in this film. There’s a quote I read somewhere once, that went something along the lines of how there are no wrong paths in life, just different ones. I love “Wolf Children” for showing us how the path marked out by society, or by your parents, or by your circumstances is not the one you will dwell on forever. And just to point out one small detail: there’s no mention of the word “love” anywhere in the movie. It’s a great example of the “show, don’t tell” skill. So, if you haven’t hugged your mom today, by golly give her a call or show her you care. And be thankful that she didn’t have to raise you as a wolf too.
P.S.: For those who like to look at technical devices in animation, you might enjoy this analysis from the YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting (I LOVE this channel), featuring a scene from “Wolf Children.”