People often tend to dismiss anime movies that are not produced by Ghibli studios, this for… well, obvious reasons, actually. They have known and loved the Ghibli Studios for years and Hayao Miyazaki, the face they associate with this studio, is one of the rare directors on this planet who can pull off the « I’m-retiring-oh-no-wait-here’s-another-movie ». By which I mean he’s the only one who can pull it off.
But I digress. Hayao Miyazaki is, for a lot of western moviegoers, the living god of japanese anime. This is a statement I can’t even deny myself, given that not only my favourite animated movie but also my favourite movie period is this:
However, as a cinephile and a writer, I have to be fair. As far as japanese animated films go, there are other people who have produced and -sometimes- still produce excellent work. Among those: the late Osamu Tezuka, the late Satoshi Kon, and, a living one this time, Mamoru Hosoda. I have now seen two of his films and by god, does he have a talent for making me have what we, internet people, call THE FEELS. His Girl Who Leapt Through Time made me root for a teenage couple, which is almost impossible to do.
What about this one then? Well, let’s find out. Watch out for spoilers, folks!
Wolf Children is the story of a young woman trying to raise her kids all by herself. The problem? Her kids are part wolf. Literally. Now I won’t reveal anything else because I don’t want to spoil, but if you think this sounds like it is going to be either boring or over-the-top, you are wrong in both cases. Wolf Children is well-written, smart, and bittersweet. Those movies always hit a very sweet spot with me.
From what I’ve already seen of his work, Mamoru Hosoda has a realistic approach of fantasy. He seems to usually choose one fantasy element according to the main theme of his story and then… he just lets his characters deal with that. And with the rest of the world. And boy, do they get to confront the real world. There are three main characters in Wolf Children, and none of them sees his life getting better just because s/he is or lives with wolf people. Fantasy, in Mamoru Hosoda’s world, is something both purely magical, like in a stunningly beautiful scene taking place in the snow, but also something that can cause great pain. In Hosoda’s world, wolf people are not just mysterious and incredibly cool, they are also, well, wild animals. He won’t let you forget that for a minute. The contrast between wolves and people is even greater because the story takes place in Japan, where being proper and fitting in is probably a bigger deal than in our good ol’ western world. Wolf Children shows you how much his characters struggle to find their place in a very tough world, whether it is the city, the country, or the mountain. The idea is simple, the characters are engaging, and it just works. And yes, it does help that the story feels so deeply Japanese. I am not saying that as a cheap explanation for weird stuff happening in the movie (although we will talk about that later), but I did feel like I was exploring a whole other culture while I was watching it.
Wolf Children also happens to have gorgeous visuals, the snow scene that I was talking about earlier being one of the most striking examples. The drawings are simple, the colours vivid and the composition is just studied to make everything look simply pure and elegant. I found myself just pausing on some really pretty shots a couple of times, just to admire them.
I only have one problem with Wolf Children, which is related to the very concept of wolf people. It may be just me, but I found it troubling that at 10, the kids would be considered adults because they’re adults in their wolf forms. It raised way too many questions in my head, like knowing if in an actual wolf clan, they would just be considered as fully adult, or if that meant wolf people died « young » for humans, or if they just matured really quickly and just stayed young adults forever. This is the kind of problem raised by stories like this one: since the fantasy element is not the focus of the story, it tends to not be fully developed. Fortunately, it is a minor enough problem that I wasn’t turned off by it at all. Even the end, which was a little bit weaker than the rest of the movie, didn’t bother me that much. I found it weird though. It’s been a few weeks and there is still a scene in there that I don’t quite understand. You know those weird scenes in movies where characters talk and you’re pretty sure they’re talking about sex but you don’t want to think that they’re talking about sex because they might be talking about something else and then you would pass for a perv because the people in the scene are like 10? Yeah, I guess it all comes back to the whole “are they adult or not” question, but it still bugs me to this day.
Speaking of which, I would love to see some people’s reaction to a certain other scene in the movie. That would be priceless. And I’m not going to show it here.
In short, Wolf Children is a breeze of fresh air, like every movie Hosoda has made so far. It is not action packed, but more of a slice of life or a character study. Sometimes, just meeting amazing people and spending some time with them is enough. It was for me.