Full disclosure: I hated watching this film. I didn't really hate the film itself, but I did find the experience of watching it an incredibly stressful and unpleasant experience, despite the fact that that really wasn't the kind of mood the film was going for. I'll be talking a little about why in the review, but for the most part, I'm going to try to be objective, because I think that this is actually a good film, just not one I ever want to watch again.
Wolf Children tells the story of Hana, a university student who falls for a young man who eventually reveals himself to be a werewolf. The two have a pair of half-wolf children together, Yuki and Ame, before the werewolf dies while out hunting for food. Now a single mother struggling with raising two children while hiding their lupine heritage, Hana moves out into a dilapidated house in the countryside. As Yuki and Ame grow older, though, Hana must deal with them veering off in different directions, with Yuki eager to fit into human society, while Ame is more interested in the forest, and becomes the pupil of an old fox. When a rainstorm hits, the two must decide whether they want to be humans or wolves.
So, I've talked before on this blog about how the effect a film can have on someone can become much more starkly unpleasant the closer it hews to scenarios in real life, and that's the main reason why I found Wolf Children so difficult to watch -- especially in its early parts, it deals heavily with themes of poverty, stress, and ending up in a life you didn't want for yourself, and that can be a fairly difficult thing to watch. The problem is that we're not really meant to be stressed out by the film: We're meant to empathise with Hana to a degree, but for the most part, it's meant to be an uplifting tale of beating the odds, and the story elements revolving around poverty are mostly a means to push the characters into a quiet, rural setting.
|I don't think Hana's husband is ever named, and I'm fine with this.|
Part of the issue, then, is that both the animators and the voice cast are very good at hitting the emotional notes of the script in a very effective way. The sequence around the father's death is very short, but the emotions of it are effectively communicated even in just a few minutes, and the same goes for the sequences surrounding things like poverty, anxiety, and obstructive bureaucracy. It's very easy to become stressed by something when it communicates very realistic emotional stakes in a very effective way.
Like more or less every Mamoru Hosoda film we've reviewed so far, this film never really settles into a status quo with its plot, instead constantly changing the stakes, conflicts, and situations while maintaining a running theme throughout (in this case, the theme is 'single motherhood,' which fits in with The Boy and the Beast's theme of 'adoptive, non-traditional families' and Summer Wars' theme of 'traditional families.'), so it never really gets boring. It's also not nearly as slow to hit its stride and get a good pace going as, say, Summer Wars or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, even though it's a considerably quieter film than either of them.
(I'd go so far as to say it's easily the quietest Hosoda film we've reviewed, actually -- all the others have had an element of bombast, whether it's from fight scenes or from loud, dramatic interpersonal interactions, but Wolf Children is a much gentler, quieter film.)
It's maybe the most bittersweet as well. Most of Hosoda's work seems to have a slightly bittersweet ending, but Wolf Children takes it to a new level, with an ending which, while it's very much framed as being a happy one, ultimately involves Hana never seeing one of her children again.
Technically, it's also among the strongest of Hosoda's films as well. The animation isn't half as nice as The Boy and the Beast's, but it's still a considerable improvement on Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, with sharp and effective use of colour and some pretty inspired shots and sequences (including one that simultaneously shows the passage of time and Yuki and Ame's parallel development by moving down a corridor between different grades, showing Yuki and Ame in each). Moreover, it's possibly the most detailed Hosoda film we've reviewed, with a lot of time clearly spent to making the scenery as detailed and intricate as possible.
|A really weird looking wolf.|
I -- actually can't recommend this film in good faith, given how difficult I found it to watch, but I will say that it's a good film, from both a technical and a thematic perspective. It would probably be my least favourite of Hosoda's films even if I didn't find it stressful, but a lot of that is just because it doesn't quite match up with my tastes. Next week, we'll be looking at Digimon: Our War Game, in the penultimate part in this Mamoru Hosoda series.