Wolf Children (Cert PG)
3 Discs DVD/BD combo (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 117 minutes approx.
Hana, a 19 year-old university student notices a quiet handsome man sitting alone in class. She gradually forms a relationship with him but he has an extraordinary secret – he is a wolf man. Hana is so in love with him that she doesn’t care and the couple have two children, daughter Yuki and son Ame, both of whom adopt the wolf characteristics of their father. One day when the kids were still very young, their father is found dead in his wolf form leaving Hana to raise the children/cubs alone.
After finding city life a strain, Hana buys a cheap dilapidated house in the country that is in need of serious renovation but it gives the children a chance to run free unnoticed from prying eyes. But as they grow up, Yuki and Ame face different life experiences shaping their future decision as to whether they should live as wolves or as humans.
Mamoru Hosoda is a victim of his own success. Ever since his stunning debut in 2006 with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, such weighty plaudits as “the next Miyazaki” were bestowed upon him, putting the pressure on his second film, 2009’s Summer Wars to repeat the success of its predecessor. Naturally it did and again the praise came thick and fast, meaning once more the burden to living up to the lofty expectations of Hosoda’s audience weighed heavier for his next feature.
It becomes apparent from the opening few frames that doubting Hosoda is a fruitless endeavour, as the ease in which he is able ensnare the unsuspecting viewer into his gentle fantasy world from the onset remains a remarkable and envious trait. The familiar lush, almost photorealistic and highly detailed visuals welcome us to a dream sequence involving Hana and a mystery person in the distance, with narration from Yuki. From here the main story unfolds, the first part a retrospective based on what Hana had told her children, the second from Yuki’s own memories.
Without wishing to make the plot sound reductive this is essentially a tale of a single parent raising two children alone and the inherent struggles that come with it, while encompassing a search for identity and sense of belonging in the world. It just so happens that the children in question have lupine DNA in them.
When the children are born, the deliveries take place at home for fear of the doctor’s reactions should they come out as wolf cubs. Later Yuki is taken ill and Hana is forced to seek help but is stuck for choice between a doctor’s surgery and a vets! It is touches like this which are obviously humorous but carry some pathos with them, highlighting the struggle Hana has to endure on a daily basis.
The children are diametrically opposed personality wise: Yuki is energetic, boisterous and pushy while Ame is quiet, clingy and prone to illness. When they first arrive in the country, Yuki’s hunting skills shine quickly while her brother is scolded for being afraid of a bird. After a couple of years of Hana trying to teach her kids the way of the wolf, she is forced to send them to school; Yuki is delighted while Ame is less enthused.
Hosoda’s ability to blend comedy and drama is shown in the way he depicts the growing pains of the two siblings. Yuki’s path is initially lighter and full of levity; she makes friends but finds the adjustment hard as she learns human girls are more interested in dolls and shiny things than snakes and animal bones! However, a newcomer to the school, Souhei, threatens Yuki’s secret by suggesting she smelled of animals and gets a wolf like clip round the ear, drawing blood and forcing Yuki to temporarily retreat from school.
Meanwhile Ame is scarred by the storybooks he reads where the wolf is always the bad guy, and tries to suppress his animalistic side. Without a male influence in his life, Ame becomes more withdrawn and unsure of his identity. A captive wolf at the sanctuary is of little help but Ame eventually finds his guru in the form of a fox in the forest he calls Sensei.
Here we have a number of dilemmas that have arisen for all three family members. For the kids it is whether to embrace their lupine side or fully integrate into human society; for Hana, can she let go of her kids should they choose the former option? After all, she gave them the chance to experience both aspects of their lives but the result with nevertheless be a heartbreaking one.
Emotions run high during this film and heartstrings are regularly tugged but Hosoda refuses to take us down the melodrama route and manipulate our feelings. Even with the fantasy element, the situations and scenarios are very real and relatable for the audience; the only possible quibble being Hana’s permanently upbeat and optimistic disposition throughout the entire film, even when times are impossibly hard.
The supporting cast are genuine yet average without being nondescript, most notably a gruff old man named Nirasaki who barks orders to Hana about growing crops. His influence over the locals to also help out pays dividends for all yet his role is quickly dismissed, a similar fate that awaits Souhei, whose presence is pivotal to Yuki’s development.
With stunning artwork and animation that looks a real treat on Blu-ray (the waterfall sequence is particularly spectacular), it is without question that Hosoda has triumphed again with this heart-warming and poignant tale of an unusual family unit that explores the everyday pains of growing up we can all relate to. With Miyazaki’s retirement (once again) pending, Wolf Children will see Hosoda’s name as his heir apparent soar to the top of the list once again and with good cause.
A truly delightful film for the ages.
Dolby True HD: English Language 5.1
Dolby True HD: Japanese Language 5.1
Collector’s Edition Bonus Disc Only:
U.S. Actor & Staff Commentary
English Language Trailer
Stage Greetings x 5
PR Video Director’s Version 01 and 02
Ratings – *****
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