Wolf Children (2012)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast: Kumiko Asô, Megumi Hayashibar, Takuma Hiraoka, Aoi Miyazaki
Plot: Hana, a nineteen-year-old college student, falls in love with a man only for him to reveal his secret; he is a Wolf Man. Eventually the couple bear two children together; a son and daughter they name Ame and Yuki who both inherit the ability to transform into wolves from their father.
Genre: Animation / Fantasy
Rating: PG13 for brief nudity.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
A theatrical release of a Japanese animated feature in Singapore is a rare occurrence. The occurrence is made even rarer when it is not a Hayao Miyazaki film. So we should thank our blessings and make a trip down to a theater that is screening Wolf Children.
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who last made The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), Wolf Children is a film strongly rooted in reality, despite its elements of folklore. As its title suggests, the film is about two children who are half-human, half-wolf, but please do not confuse them with baby werewolves.
Narrated by Yuki, the hyperactive older sister, Wolf Children centers on Yuki's mother and her arduous twelve-year journey to raise her kids into mature teenagers. You may well guess that the father is absent, but as you will find out, this is no broken family. Ame, the younger brother, is shy and reserved, but after a major turning point in the film, he grows into something more, to the worry of the mother.
Hosoda's film is like a coming-of-age tale, but its emphasis on family, or more specifically the mother-child bond, makes it thematically dense in its depiction of love, understanding, and sacrifice. The animation is as beautiful as it gets, be it scenes of city living in the film's first act, or the eventual transition into a natural environment that makes up the remainder of the film.
Watching this urban to rural transition reminds of Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday (1991), a masterpiece about life that you must watch. Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro (1988) also comes to mind in the scenes that see the "wolf children" playing in the fields that surround their new, wooden house.
Wolf Children may feel a bit lengthy, running close to two hours, as the drama oscillates back and forth between mother and child, sometimes a bit too exclusively, and thus neglecting other supporting characters and narrative threads.
The ending seems to suffer from this exclusivity as Hosoda focuses too much on the bond between the mother and a particular child. Still, Wolf Children is a decent Japanese animated feature. It is endearing because it reflects life. In life, we sometimes fail to grasp our own identity, best encapsulated in the ponderous question: Who do you want to be?
Our identity is shaped by the environment we are exposed to, which is very often subjected to the tension between autonomy and responsibility. In the end, Hosoda’s film teaches us to be responsible for our own freedom. Now, isn’t that how life should be ideally led?
Verdict: This beautiful Japanese animated feature is endearing, but it may feel a bit too lengthy at times.
GRADE: B+ (8/10 or 3.5 stars)
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