iSugio

Wolf Children Ame and Yuki – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Older sister Yuki and younger brother Ame have a secret. They are “wolf children,” half human and half wolf. Their mother Hana met and fell in love with a wolf man. The family lives discreetly in a quiet corner of the city, keeping their secret to themselves. But one day, their father passes away. Their mother Hana then decides to take Yuki and Ame out from the city and live in the countryside surrounded by nature.

With a collection of award-winning and highly praised films already under his belt, Mamoru Hosoda has established himself as one of Japan’s foremost animation directors. From helming regarded films such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and Summer Wars (2009), to his work on One Piece and Digimon: The Movie, Hosoda is one of the few animation directors to have successfully made the entrance into that of mainstream cinema. This is certainly no easy task within the realm of Japanese animation, but Hosoda brings about a sense of universalism throughout his films that has reach across cultural boundaries and traditional societal values. Perhaps most importantly, Hosoda focuses intently on the individuals within his films, with careful attention being given towards the complicated relationships that surround his characters. With his latest film, Hosoda once again focuses on the element family, perhaps even more so than any of his previous cinematic endeavors thus far.

Given his intensive focus on family throughout his more recent films, viewers may observe glimpses of Hosoda’s previous family-centered comedy Summer Wars throughout their watching of Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, albeit with a more considerable focus on the aspects of motherly bonding more so than the hectic familial antics and matriarchal prefaces as seen in Summer Wars. Whereas that film explored the notion of traditional family values still remaining important amidst a contemporary world consumed with Internet technology, Wolf Children finds itself lessening the scope of its narrative to a considerable degree in order to focus on a more naturalistic familial setting. It is a more intimate film in many respects because of this choice, with much of its narrative dedicated towards exploring the simplicities of life and how we share such experiences with that of our closest family members. From the Hana, Yuki, and Ame’s aspirations to grow and harvest vegetables together, to Hana’s readiness to accept that her children will lead very different lifeways, the film is more about the pivotal role that mothers play in shaping and formulating how their children perceive themselves as individuals.

This is most prominently expressed through the narration of the film, which is from the perspective of Yuki, the oldest of the half-human and half-wolf children, as she primarily details her mother Hana’s struggle to raise two young children on her own. Of course, this can be seen as struggle for any single parent, but the stigma associated with being a single mother within Japan often means that many are faced with social and economical discrimination. Hosoda is careful to detail Hana’s place as a single mother who experiences such prejudices—whether from the local town folk or child welfare consultants—but never to the point of having Hana be in complete despair concerning her dire predicament. Hosoda refrains from being too truthful in regards to this social issue, but by doing so he allows Hana to be viewed as a strong woman willing to set aside her own desires in order to raise her children. Her transformation from being a young, naïve university student to that of full-fledged mother is a wonderful process to behold, with her development as a character shown and expressed in the most genuine of ways. Whether this is viewed in her willingness to stay up late into the night to read about wolves, to leaving the city and moving to the countryside in order to raise her children in a more comfortable environment, the film is seemingly an ode to the trials and tribulation of parenting, and most importantly, that of motherhood.

But while Wolf Children does a superb job in establishing the importance of Hana’s role as a mother, the film is somewhat setback by its lack of character development concerning her son Ame. While the majority of the film is narrated through the character of Yuki as she discusses her mother Hana, we receive much insight into Yuki and her mother because of this, leaving Ame as an individual we know—nor care—very little about. We gain only a slight insight into him as a character, which is only magnified towards the latter half of the film in which Ame makes a decision that will affect the rest of his life. We never really see him fully develop outside that of being a shy and timid young man, which makes his final decision seem all the more artificial. The film approaches both Yuki and Ame through a dualistic stance regarding their status as being half-human and half-wolf, with one leaning towards being more human and the other towards being more wolf. The latter half of the film details this duality quite literally, which is where see Ame as an underdeveloped character compared to the likes of Yuki. Ame is certainly an illusive individual, but much more could have been done to broaden his reasoning for the choice he makes at the end. Perhaps given the construction of the narration, this was well intended, but it leaves much to be desired.

Fortunately, as in Hosoda’s previous works, Wolf Children is a strong visual experience despite some of its narrative flaws. With Hosoda establishing Studio Chizu in order to work alongside Studio Madhouse for this film, the visual quality of Wolf Children beautifully compliments the nature of its story, bringing about wonderful, natural environments that provide much familiarity to that of the viewer. Whether this is viewed in the unrestrained reflection of the vast countryside, with its burgeoning forests and abundant farmlands awash with greenery, to the characters themselves, with some fantastic sequences shared between Yuki and Ame as they seamlessly transform between wolf and human right before our eyes. While CGI would have been adequate to the get the job done here, the prominent use of traditional animation still remains prevalent through the film, and is perhaps one the main reasons Hosoda’s films have resonated—from a visual standpoint—with that of Studio Ghibli productions. While certainly rivaling said studio in terms of animation quality, Hosoda’s usage of traditional animation here is akin to an oil painting, with characters being slightly less defined than his previous works. This stylistic choice will be rather noticeable for those viewers accustomed to the likes of, say, Summer Wars, but it allows for the continual showcasing of Studio Madhouse’s—and Studio Chizu’s—considerable talent as animators.

Wolf Children is a film that further strengthens Hosoda’s position as one of Japan’s foremost animation directors, even if it is somewhat flawed in regards to character development and pacing. It is a film about the immense love that is shared between a mother and her children, but it is also a film that takes itself rather seriously, bringing about a mature narrative that explores the incredible struggle that single parents must undertake. Hosoda extends this outlook to include that of looking at the how the choices we choose to take define who we are as individuals, looking at the influential people that help us make those choices. One of the noticeable traits within Hosoda’s films is that he is able to find an adequate balance between the various emotions—joy, anger, and sadness—that is expressed by the characters. This balance elevates the film from being that of simply an animated film to that of something much more meaningful. And while the film may tend to harp on the side of being overly sentimental at times, Wolf Children is a film that can be enjoyed by practically anyone, which showcases Hosoda’s ability to be an all-embracing director successfully easing his way into the hearts and minds of those who watch his films.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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