Wolf Children follows the story of Hana, who at the start of the film is your typical 19-year-old college student who falls in love with a man, but not just any man, a Wolf Man. Born from a now extinct line, he’s kept his secret for many years, but now he’s fallen in love with her. The pair shortly move in together and start a family, but tragedy strikes when the Wolf Man dies during a hunt not long after the birth of their second child. With both of the children having ‘wolf’ transformation powers that must be kept hidden from the world; Hana decides to move to the countryside so they can be safely kept away from prying eyes and are able to roam free. However, as the children grow up and start to form their own view of life, the secret-keeping starts to become more of a struggle.
The film is co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda who is best known for his work on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. Both films were critically and commercially successful, so naturally a high expectation is riding on this film. Thankfully, Wolf Children’s opening act, which focuses on the ‘fairytale’ like romance between Hana and the Wolf Man, is strong. The montage of their love rings a lot of bells as it’s similar to the relationship montage in Pixar’s Up (but with added bestiality). The fact that we never learn the real name of the children’s father doesn’t make their relationship any less thoughtful or emotional. You’re swept up into their cosy family rather easily, which makes his death and the inevitable single-mother raising of the two children, hard hitting. You see Hana’s life thereafter in unfiltered detail from the terrible twos’ tantrums, to the worries of how to cure sickness in human/wolf children. You feel like you’re struggling with Hana from the lack of sleep, the furniture being chewed up, etc, and this really builds a strong emotional connection that continues through most of the film. I’m sure all parents can identify with her and will most likely see a lot of similar behaviour in their own children. It’s also interesting to observe the attention to detail that’s devoted to how the outside world reacts to their upbringing; such as child services coming round to question Hana as to why her children have not had their vaccinations done. It’s not the kind of thing that springs to mind straight away and it’s also the kind of thing that most fantasy films would probably skim over to perhaps romanticise the raising of unique/special children. It’s this attention to such details that makes the first act the strongest, as sadly this precision doesn’t continue as sturdily towards the finale.
Despite being geared up as Hana’s story of her raising two children, the second and third acts are mostly about her daughter, Yuki, and son, Ame, coming of age; learning to live as wolf children in a distinctly human world with no other of their kind to guide them on their path or help answer questions on what’s ‘normal’ for a wolf child to be like. You get a front row seat into their small world which evolves in the second act when the siblings start to grow up and apart, choosing their way of surviving in the world. It’s interesting to see the children seemingly choosing one path, only to have certain circumstances make them change their minds. However despite the emotional rollercoaster you’re on, the eventual ‘coming of age’ acts they commit in the grand finale actually misses the mark sometimes because, frankly, the age of the children does not do the script any favours. The children are 10/11 years old when they start to question parental authority and choose what they want to be, but much of their behaviours and speech is not something that a normal 10/11 year old would do or say. They are not even animated like pre-teens. If they were, say, 16/17 years old, the more typical age where rebellion and entering adulthood is expected, the emotional punches would have been a lot more effective and believable. At their current age, however, a fair amount of the finale comes off as too bittersweet and unconvincing. This is especially true with Ame’s ultimate choice; what should have been inspiring and moving (the effect the film was obviously going for) instead comes across as cold and irresponsible. The film is also mostly narrated by Yuki, told as if in a flashback, but there’s ultimately little pay-off for it, it seems almost uncessarily added in, and in fact actually distances us from Hana towards the end rather than bringing the whole family experience together.
Watching the film on Blu-ray is a mixed bag; although it’s very sharp and colourful, the actual animation itself dips in quality. The human character designs are too minimal and soft, especially around the faces; the film also likes to take many wide shots where you can see the dramatic dip in artistic efforts for the humans that I personally found rather distracting. However the animation really does go all out when they move to the countryside and takes advantage of their gorgeous surroundings. The scene of the family running in the snow and Ame’s hunting sequence come to mind in terms of stunning quality. Both scenes are also backed up by a stunning score as well by Takagi Masakatsu.
Wolf Children is available on DVD and Combo Blu-ray and DVD package; extras include commentaries, stage greetings, trailers and promo videos.
Wolf Children may not be Mamoru Hosoda’s strongest film, or the best film to be granted a Blu-ray release this year, but it does have a lot of heart and soul behind this moving tale, even if the finale isn’t as strong as it could have been. If you’re a fan of Mamoru Hosoda’s work or looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, then it’s worth a watch.