Mamoru Hosoda’s follow-up to Summer Wars tells a more focused story while carrying over narrative and thematic ideas. The movement from the urban to the rural, the idea of hidden identities and the bond of family recur as themes in the film. However, while Summer Wars told a more original story, Wolf Children’s story is familiar, even if the film takes its own twist with the tale.
Hana (Aoi Miyazake) meets a strange young man name Kare (Takao Ohsawa) at school. She soon discovers that he’s actually a werewolf. The two live together for several years and have two children: Yuki (Haru Kuroki) and Ame (Yukito Nishii). However, after a turn of events, Hana is forced to raise the two children on her own and finds that dealing with kids who can change into wolves becomes a difficult task.
After the film moves settings from the city to the country, the film becomes reminiscent of My Neighbor Totoro, but with something a bit more sinister thrown into the mix. The studio Ghibli influences are worn proudly. The wolf aspects of the film evolve into dealing with a story similar to Princess Mononoke.
The conceit of raising werewolf children gives the film an interesting angle to explore the nature of kids and raising kids. At times, children can certainly act like animals, seeking out only their base desires wild and rough around the edges. There can also be something vicious and cruel about children. Yuki often bullies Ame into trying to be more wolf-like, less weak and frail.
Hana gives the kids an ultimatum when they are young: you must decide what you are, a wolf or a human. These dualistic natures are incompatible, eventually one must rule. Issues of identity, society and human nature follow this arc. Are we part of nature or part of a community of humans? The wolf children have their feet in both worlds, but eventually find it impossible to straddle the line.
The film weaves a larger story that spans many years: The love story of Hana and Kare, the young years of Yuki and Ame, the days on the farm and the kids growing each growing up to decide their identity. The pacing of the overall story is superb. Mamoru Hosoda & Satoko Okudera collaborated on the screenplay and they bridges gaps in time with breathtakingly beautiful montages. One of the early ones with Hana and Kare tells a beautiful love story that could be its own film. Here, it’s just one sequence. A later one with the kids expresses the joys of a wild childhood in an even shorter amount of time.
Of course, the animation goes a long way to selling these sequences. The animators that worked on this film did a stellar job with the expressiveness of the faces. Anime can drift towards being over the top with its emotiveness, but here, the subtle hints of the eyes and the mouth go a long way to expressing the emotions of a moment. The movie also is filled with a lot of rich detail and impressive camerawork.
The absurdity of the setup gives way to a strong, sweeping drama that becomes a beautiful exploration of life and human nature. The craziness of raising kids or being kids, the tragedy of growing old and losing the freedom of youth, and the pain of going on after losing those we love are some of the most basic human stories and sometimes it takes the weirdness of wolf children to tell the story anew.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing