While in the middle of a class at University, a young student named Hana comes across a man who regularly sneaks into her classes. The man, named Ookami, is mysterious, but kind natured and so Hana starts falling in love with him. The two start dating for some time, but there is a secret Ookami reveals to Hana that is quite startling; he is a Wolf man, the last descendant of the Japanese wolf. Because of Hana’s love, this detail is no bother to her, and later on in life Hana and Ookami have two wolf children, Yuki and Ame. Unfortunately, one night Ookami goes out and hunts for food, and dies, leaving Hana with the two children, who, because of the lack of knowledge of caring for wolves, is constantly struggling to find out how to care for them. Because of crowded city and fears that her children would get taken away, Hana decides to move to a peaceful rural village, where Yuki and Ame can roam freely where no one would suspect them otherwise. However, even the rural lives, as well as having Yuki and Ame grow up lead to new problems that even Hana cannot avoid.
After the release of his 2009 hit “Summer Wars”, Mamoru Hosada established his own Studio (Studio Chizu) for co-production with Madhouse on his next film. Based on the amount of new and young families that were appearing, particularly one of his close friends becoming a mother, Hosada wanted to make a movie about a mother raising her children, and one with a huge passing of time. He noted that Summer Wars was a story that lasted 3 or 4 days, Wolf Children is a story that lasts 13 years, which he felt was one of the big challenges about making the story. Wolf Children premiered in Paris on June 25th 2012, and later had a nationwide Japanese release on July 21st.
One thing I love about the animation of Mamoru Hosada’s films is that things are that things are always moving and how colourful the films are. Even in scenes with static views or where the main focuses aren’t moving very much, something in the background usually is. The first transformation scene is really beautiful, for how dark the environment is, and that is a surprising way to describe a scene like that considering the amount of films featuring werewolves, portraying the transformation sequences as uncomforting or threatening. The scene where Hana, Yuki and Ame all play in the snow is probably the best scene in the movie, with its bright white layout, as well the angles and pacing that makes you feel like you are following them. A lot of scenes of nature and terrain clearly had a lot of effort put into them, and the combination of traditional and CG art blends flawlessly.
The music is done by Takagi Masakatsu, and after looking through his work, this soundtrack really surprises me. His usual work is very upbeat, with a bit of experimental stuff, and yet the music in Wolf Children is usually very calming and light, with the occasional large orchestral moment. It is some really good music and it deserves listening to on its own if you want something calm to listen to. Common usually in Japanese films, there are moments with no music playing, especially in moments of drama or sadness, which is an effect of music that I always like.
The voice acting is great all round. Aoi Miyazaki has a very fitting tone of voice, soft and brightly optimistic, which is fitting for Hana’s personality. Both Ame and Yuki have two voice actors each for their young and older counterparts. While I find Yuki and Ame’s young voices (Momoka Ono and Amon Kabe) well performed for child actors, both sounding very authentic and giving varying personalities, their older voices (Haru Kuroki and Yukito Nishii) aren’t as suitable as I hoped. Haru has a very generic young female voice, which is comfortable for viewing audiences but it doesn’t give out much of a personality. Amon on the other hand sounds older than his character with his slightly deepened voice, to put this into perspective, the older Yuki and Ame are 12 and 10 respectively. Obviously there would be significant changes in voice after characters age, but Ame is still very young, and to me his voice could’ve been a bit higher in tone.
If this film was made in the west, the story would be very different, thanks to the recent schlock of vampire and werewolf movies, trying to cash in on the craze Twilight has. While Japan has films like that, they are less common, and usually follow the traditional genres and styles like horror, including teen-horror, as far as I’ve researched. So after seeing all the bad films I see advertised involving horror monsters that used to be great, this one intrigued me.
What make it surprising off the bat is that the whole wolf element of this film isn’t a huge focus. The mythology is put together briefly, nothing is explained about how the transformations work, which isn’t much of an issue since it isn’t important, a lot of films with this kind of element would go into exposition just to tell the audience that in the movie’s work, this can happen, instead the film opens with that the story may not sound true, but it happens. As expected from my writing of Hosada’s inspiration for the film, the focus is on Hana being a mother, and a single mother as well. We get to see her struggle and we can sympathise because Hana is a very likeable person and while she has two children who are also partly wolves, she has to suffer with the loss of her lover and bring up the kind of children which she fears wouldn’t be treated normally in society. It is pretty easy to imagine a mother going through something like this, even if there aren’t such things as wolf children. The closest the film’s wolf element is a focus or a conflict in the plot is later in the story when Yuki and Ame grow older and have to decide what kind of life to have. I don’t want to spoil this film but be warned, it can get very emotional.
There are very few moments which I have issues with, and I think that’s mostly due to how under developed some of the supporting characters are, in comparison to Hana, Yuki and Ame, but they don’t ruin this film to a huge extent so I highly recommend giving this film a watch. It’s both charming and emotional, with a nice twist to follow.
Wolf Children: Yuki and Ame is currently owned by Funimation and Manga Entertainment, who plan to release this on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US and UK sometime in 2013. Two novelizations, as well as a manga, all written by Mamoru Hosada with artwork by Yū were released in Japanese by Kadokawa Shoten alongside the film’s theatrical releases, but there has been no announcement of an English release so far.