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What happens when a young mother is widowed? What happens when that young mother is widowed with half wolf/half human infants? That’s the story of Wolf Children.
Mamoru Hosada directs the beautifully animated film about Hana, a young college student who’s relying on a part-time job and a scholarship to pay her way through school. One day, she notices a new student and takes an immediate liking to him. She attempts to befriend him, but he recoils. Undeterred, Hana approaches him again, this time with a little more success. Study sessions become dates, and soon the lunch dates become love. Hana and her wolfman boyfriend become pregnant. They give birth to their brave and rambunctious daughter, Yuki. Not long after a little brother follows in the form of sensitive, introspective Ame. Their lives border on the unconventional, to say the least. But, they are in love and bumbling through parenthood like many young couples. Tragically Ookami dies, leaving Hana to raise their children on her own. She does her best to raise them, but is constantly conflicted as to their nurturing. Should she raise wolves or humans? Besieged by neighbors and social workers, Hana decides to move her children from Tokyo to the mountainous country side. Far from society and neighbors, Hana gives her children the freedom to choose their identities.
Wolf Children is a little cliché and predictable. It vaults motherhood into exaggerated sainthood. Yuki and Ame (rain and snow), are introduced as archetypes and never quite grow into full fledged characters . Hana likewise becomes a mother and loses any other sense of identity. It’s not entirely egregious, as their character still manage to be interesting. However, it does rob the characters of nuance. Wolf Children is not without its merits. It takes predictable plot lines and makes them entertaining, touching, and beautiful.
It may not be perfect, but really who cares. Hosada’s fairy tale movie is spectacular to watch. Perhaps some will justifiably find the film a touch too saccharine. As for me, the sight of half human-half wolf babies was adorable. The animation is wonderfully lush and vivid. The scenery and sets border on a strange photorealism. They mimic reality incredibly well, but of course have the uncanny quality of being handdrawn. Sets are drawn with incredible amounts of precision and detail. If you are not captivated by the story, perhaps the animation will get you. The production levels for Wolf Children are great. You can tell they put thought into the simplest of decisions. An ethereal shot of Hana in the forest is animated with soft-focus lightning. Hana’s black hair has a reddish outline, mimicking the way sunlight might reflect off dark hair. It’s a beautiful touch I had not seen before, and it’s one of many such shots. Despite being a sentimental, at times schmaltzy, story, Wolf Children’s art direction opts for subtlety. The magic is in the mundane, and it strikes a perfect balance to make an unrealistic story sincere and heartfelt.