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Although Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli colleagues are still the most famous purveyors of Japanese animation, a number of other directors have also been winning fans and acclaim of late. Hosoda Mamoru is chief amongst these, whose “The Girl Who Leapt through Time” and “Summer Wars” have been two of the country’s very best anime for some time, proving extremely popular at home and abroad. “Wolf Children” is Hosoda’s latest offering, based on an original story which he co-wrote with regular scripter Okudera Satoko, a romantic fantasy with themes of love, parenting and sacrifice. Having emerged as one of the biggest earners in Japan of 2012, the film also played to success at a variety of prestigious international festivals.
The film tells the story of Hana (Miyazaki Aoi, “Nana”), a college student who falls deeply in love with a polite young man (Osawa Takao, “Goemon”) who turns out to be a werewolf of sorts. Despite his condition, they fall immediately in love and are soon living together, Hana giving birth to two children, Yuki and Ame, both of whom have inherited their father’s tendency to turn into a wolf. After he sadly dies, Hana decides to take the youngsters away from prying eyes, moving to a rundown home in a remote country village near to the mountains. Here, she tries to bring them up as normal human children, while coming to terms with the nature of their animal side.
“Wolf Children” is a little different to Hosoda Mamoru’s previous films, as despite its werewolf romance premise, it shies away from adventure and fantasy in favour of peaceful contemplation that recalls earlier Ghibli classics. Certainly, the film does bring back memories of “Totoro”, with its rural setting and depictions of nature and the countryside, and its young characters exploring the wilderness and learning about their own paths in life. Though the story is essentially pretty predictable, it plays out well and is pleasingly free from too much artificial drama, even if as a result there are stretches when very little actually happens. Instead, the film mainly focuses on the theme of being different, whether this be Yuki and Ame in their struggle to fit in with normal society, or Hana herself, who as a single mother faces up to stigmas and difficulties. Though the film is thoughtful and relatively slow moving, Hosoda’s approach is measured and mature, enough to keep things surprisingly grounded, and it’s engaging and quietly emotional throughout.
Probably the film’s main draw is its gorgeous animation, and on that score Hosoda certainly doesn’t disappoint, with some amazing and beautifully done visuals. Again, the film here may remind some of “Totoro”, with the same kind of harmonious and tranquil beauty, the fields, forests, mountains and animal denizens of its setting being brought to delightful and colourful life through what was clearly loving craftsmanship. The character work is similarly impressive, with Hana, Yuki and Ame all appealing and distinctive, even if the two kids are unsurprisingly at times made a little too much on the cutesy side with their puppy dog style antics. This, coupled with the solid script adds depth to the film’s themes, and though there’s nothing terribly new to its plot or themes, it comes across as earnest and well-meaning in a manner which is both upbeat and bittersweet.
There’s really a great deal to like and enjoy here, and “Wolf Children” has enough heart to ensure that it should go down with anime fans and doubters alike. Exquisitely made and capturing that all important sense of wonder, it’s easy to see why it proved such a massive hit in Japan, and confirms again that Hosoda Mamoru is indeed one the most talented names working in animation today.
Mamoru Hosoda (director) / Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera (screenplay)
CAST: Kumiko Asô