Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Cinema & TV: Wolf Children (2012)

Hello and welcome to another dose of shapeshifting extravaganza!

Recently, as I was backing up my old werewolf movie reviews, I realised I haven’t written a review for four whole years. It’s astounding how fast time flies. In response to this, I decided to write something of the mentioned sort, so this time we’ll be looking at a production a little different from the usual werewolf movies – an animated film, Hosoda Mamoru’s Wolf Children.

In order to create Wolf Children, Hosoda established Studio Chizu, which co-produced the movie with studio Madhouse (known for animating well-known titles such as: Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Death Note, Marvel Anime, Hellsing Ultimate, Trigun, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and many more). The movie’s characters were designed by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki – the character designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The production had its international debut in June 2012 in France, a month before it began screening in Japan, and was an immediate success, becoming the second-highest grossing film in its home country on its debut weekend of 21-22 July (the number one highest-grossing film at the time being Disney Pixar’s Brave). Following its success, Hosoda has been numerously hailed as a successor of Miyazaki Hayao and the influences of Studio Ghibli’s productions are visible throughout the movie. Wolf Children was well received by critics, scoring 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and obtaining a rating of 7.2/10 on Metacritic.
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Wolf Children on Amazon!

Since I am now part of Amazon’s Affiliate program, you can directly support me by purchasing a copy of your own of Wolf Children from Amazon! Should my analysis and review spark your interest in the movie – or should you want to view it yourself before reading this article – please consider buying it through the link provided next to this message. Simply click on the cover of the Blu-Ray version of the movie on the right-hand side and you will be sent to a page listing all the offers related to Wolf Children! Unfortunately, at this moment the movie is not available on Amazon Video due to Amazon's agreement (or lack of thereof) with the Japanese distributor, so the only copies for purchase are physical Blu-Rays and DVDs.

And so, after this short introduction, it’s time that we took a closer look at the movie – not from the perspective of a general movie critic, but from the point of view of a lycanthropologist.

Summary

Wolf Children follows the life of a young woman named Hana, who falls in love with a mysterious man she meets during university lectures. When their relationship becomes serious, the man reveals to Hana that he is a werewolf, but the two remain together regardless. They live happily for a few years and have two children, but their happiness is cut short by the man’s death. As a lone mother, Hana has to face the hardships of bringing up her two half-human half-wolf children, looking on as with the passage of time they choose their own paths in life and decide whether they want to live as humans or wolves.

In-depth Analysis & Synopsis

As we learn at the beginning, the movie is narrated throughout by Yuki – Hana’s daughter, whose recount of the events of her mother’s life is the basis of the plot. We do not know if at this point in time Hana is still alive (and Yuki tells her story as an homage) or if Yuki has children of her own (and wants them to know their grandmother’s story) or if she is telling the story simply so that it’s not forgotten.

Initially, the action takes place in Tokyo, where Hana attends university. In a dream-like vision (it is never explained if these are Hana’s dreams or simply symbolic scenes added for artistic effect), as she is lying in a meadow full of flowers, Hana sees a silhouette of a wolf approaching in the distance, which  then shifts its appearance to that of a dark-haired man. In early summer, she meets the future father of her children during one of her university lectures. She lends him her textbook and learns that he’s not a student, but attends lectures whenever he can as an auditor. The two take to each other and start dating, quickly falling in love with one another.

One summer evening, the man (whose name we never learn and who is only referred to as ‘the werewolf’ in Japanese or ‘the Wolfman’ in the English version) informs Hana that there is something important that he needs to tell her, but in the end he hesitates and puts it off until the next day. Time passes and we learn that it isn’t until winter that he builds up courage to finally reveal his secret to Hana. The secret is, of course, the fact that he’s a werewolf. The two meet on a hill overlooking Tokyo and, having made sure that they are alone, the Wolfman asks Hana to close her eyes. He then transforms into his humanoid wolf form in front of her, completely taking her aback. 


One thing to note here is that for some reason, when he first transforms, his eye colour changes from his human form blue to yellow, but then after he’s done it goes back to being blue. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or just a small mistake in colouring. When I think of some later moments in the movie, there are times when the werewolves’ eyes change colour to red to signify anger, but since generally they retain their human eye colour after they transform, I would say that this exception might exist simply to emphasise the effect of the first transformation that we see on screen.

As we can see, the Wolfman retains a semblance of his old hairstyle after shapeshifting, which is a recurring theme for this movie’s werewolves. They can also speak while in wolf form, their voices virtually unchanged, except for occasional growls when angered. I know that the movie’s primary aim is to tell a story and so it does have some flaws (although as far as anatomical correctness is concerned, Wolf Children does a pretty good job at presenting its werewolves) – naturally, when undergoing a transformation, one would expect the werewolf’s vocal chords to undergo a change as well. Even if one would retain the ability to speak, it would probably not be as clear and articulate as when one is human, not to mention that canine mouths aren’t made for complex human speech. Here, however, the werewolves can easily speak with their own voices after they transform, which might actually be to emphasise the fact that they are basically perfect hybrids between human and wolf, as we learn over the course of the movie.


Right off the bat, Hosoda’s production rebuffs werewolf stereotypes by stating that its werewolves do not need a full moon to transform and they are not solely about hunting and killing people. We then learn that our Wolfman is the last (of course!) descendant of the now-extinct Japanese wolf, but it is not explained what kind of descent we are talking about here.

Let’s focus for a moment on the above mentioned animal, since its significance will be important later on (and some background information is always useful – ‘the more you know’ and that kind of thing…). So, the Japanese wolf was the smallest wolf in the world, and actually included two subspecies of the wolf: the Hokkaidō wolf (Canis lupus hattai) which went extinct in 1889, and the Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax) which went extinct in 1905. Since it is mentioned that it has been a hundred years since the extinction of the Japanese wolf whose descendant the Wolfman is (and even more so since the action takes place in Tokyo, not on Hokkaidō), we can safely assume that the wolf in question here is the Honshū wolf. Both of the aforementioned subspecies of the Canis lupus were driven to extinction due to expanding human settlements encroaching on the wolves’ habitats (which caused conflicts between the animals and ranchers), the industrialisation of the country during the Meiji restoration period, and even rabies, which decimated the wolves’ population once it was introduced to the island in the first half of the 18th century. Even when the Honshū wolf was still abundant in Japan, it was so elusive that it gained almost a mythical status, blending into traditional Japanese folklore. The wolf was therefore considered a guardian of mountains and a protector of travellers. It was even believed that abandoned infants could be picked up and raised by wolves. These beliefs are present in many modern works that take from Japanese lore, the two most obvious examples that come to my mind being Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, where there is a great white wolf-god called Moro, and Clover Studio’s video game Ōkami, where the great goddess Amaterasu takes on the form of a white wolf to fight against the evil Yamata no Orochi.

Coming back to Wolf Children, we don’t know exactly how such perfect hybrids as the Wolfman’s kin first came to be, but maybe it is better not to think about it too deeply, for we might come up with something not as pleasant as we would like to. It’s a pity that the movie didn’t care to provide a little bit more exposition about the origins of its werewolves, though. My guess is that for an ordinary viewer this information wouldn’t be at all that important, it’s only us werewolf-crazy people that always nitpick so much. Maybe it was a question too difficult to come up with an answer to for Hosoda? Or perhaps he simply wanted to add magic to the whole setting by steeping the Wolfman’s roots in mystery. Either way, the only things we know are what we learn from Yuki’s narration, which are things she heard from her mother who, in turn, learned them from the Wolfman. We learn that he was told about the nature of his existence by his parents, which suggests that at least one of them was also a werewolf (unless they took him in, but that is just speculation). They also forbade him to tell anyone about it for his own safety and soon after apparently they both died (it is not explained how), which forced him to spend his childhood in the care of relatives oblivious to his being a werewolf. After a troubled childhood, the Wolfman decided to get his driver’s licence and start working in Tokyo, where he lived hiding his true nature from everyone around until he met Hana.


The girl is at first shocked, but she decides not to break up with the Wolfman and accepts his werewolfism. The two then have sex and soon after the Wolfman moves in to live with Hana in her apartment. They enjoy a blissful life together, but soon the first troubles of being the wife of a werewolf appear when Hana learns that she is pregnant. Scared of what the doctors might find in her belly, she decides to learn about natural childbirth in order to give birth to her child at home, without any outside help. While she stays at home, the Wolfman continues working as a truck driver and sometimes in the evenings goes out to hunt, bringing wild fowl back home for some additional sustenance for his pregnant mate. The following winter, Hana gives birth to a daughter, who they call Yuki, because of snow that was falling that day. Contrary to Hana’s fears, Yuki is born looking like an ordinary human baby. A year after, during a rainy spring day, her little brother, Ame, is born. Their happiness is cut short, however, when one day the Wolfman disappears, seemingly without a trace. Having found the groceries and his wallet in front of their apartment’s door, Hana sets out to roam the city in search of her beloved. What she discovers breaks her heart and shatters her world.


Crossing a bridge, Hana notices a clean-up crew who are preparing to pull out a large canine out of the river. What to ordinary inhabitants of Tokyo seems nothing more than a large dog (since wolves have been extinct for quite a while), to Hana is none other than her werewolf husband. Because we can only know as much as Hana and Yuki, we have no idea what happened that lead to his death. We can only speculate based on what we are shown on-screen and the little that Yuki tells us, which is to say we can assume he went hunting for fowl after he had brought Hana the groceries, during which time something went horribly wrong, making him drown somewhere in the upper parts of the Sumida river, his body then carried downstream into the city, where it is found by a trash van.

What we immediately notice here is that after death his form remains that of a wolf and does not revert to that of a human, at least not soon after death. We do not know, however, how long he had been drifting before he was discovered. It would be quite a shock for the clean-up crew if the body of the canine they bagged turned out human later on, but since this is the only time we see a werewolf corpse in the entire movie, we have to assume that that’s not what happened and that, indeed, the Wolfman remained a wolf after death.

Heart-broken, Hana returns home and resolves to raise her two children on her own. This, at times, proves to be a little more than she had bargained for, but the girl doesn’t give up. In order to take care of the kids, she is forced to resign from college, as well as quit her part-time jobs, sustaining herself and her children only off of what their father had saved up. Yuki in particular is a handful for her mother – teeming with energy, impatient, and a glutton, she is a stark contrast of her younger brother, Ame. The children are shown to be unsure of what they are and what they want to be – humans or wolves – which is an overarching theme of the movie. It is hard, however, to talk about such serious life choices when talking about toddlers, so Yuki and Ame end up spending as much of their childhoods being wolves and half-wolves as being humans.


They are shown – or should I say, Yuki is shown, since she’s the livelier of the two – doing various things that human babies don’t do (in addition to the things babies do, of course), such as chewing on practically anything they can get hold of (books, wooden furniture), tearing pillows apart, and making a general mess of the apartment. This not only gives their mother a proper headache, but also forces her to learn both how to raise human children and study the habits and ways of life of wolves. Raising half-human half-wolf children proves quite a challenge for Hana, difficult decisions forced upon her at every turn. For instance, when Yuki becomes sick, Hana has no idea whether she should take her to a paediatrician or a veterinarian, so she decides to contact a doctor by phone. Due to the fact that the children don’t yet have full control over their transformations (just like little children burst into tears for any reason possible), Hana is forced to isolate them from other children and can only look on while other mothers and their children play with each other in the park.

But the problems just keep piling up as time goes by. The frail and moody Ame keeps crying at night, which brings angry neighbours to Hana’s doors, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The children soon start to howl at night, just like wolves do. This, coupled with all the other antics they perform that ordinary children do not, causes the landlady to threaten Hana with eviction if she refuses to get rid of her ‘pets’. Although Hana assures the landlady that she does not own any animals, the woman will have none of it (despite not having seen any animals in Hana’s apartment, but that’s how people are). As if this wasn’t enough, soon after, Child Care workers knock on Hana’s door. Because neither Yuki nor Ame had ever been vaccinated or taken for medical check-ups, they became worried about their well-being. Terrified that they might see her children transform, Hana refuses to let them in. Sometime later, she takes them to a desolate field, so they can play outside as much as they want without anyone seeing them. Rhetorically, she asks them if they have decided whether they want to live their lives as wolves or humans, but the kids are still too young to understand her meaning. For them, being what they are is natural, so they don’t see any reason to choose.


Hana decides that the only way for her family to live unbothered by urban society is for them to move to the countryside. Through an estate agent, Hana and her children travel to the countryside in search of a new home. To the estate agent’s surprise, the woman decides to settle in an abandoned house near the hills (this setting gives off a serious My Neighbour Totoro vibe, by the way), where one has to travel a few kilometres to find the nearest neighbours. For our werewolf family this is the perfect place to live without any intrusions. During Hana’s dialogue with the estate agent, we come across another characteristic belief related to the figure of the wolf in Japanese culture. The estate agent informs Hana that it will probably be impossible for her to grow any produce of her own because the nearby field is often ravaged by wild animals that come down from the mountains. In Japanese folklore the wolf, as guardian spirit, would often protect farmers’ plots from animals that would otherwise ruin the crops – so we can be sure that our family will have no problems with keeping it clear. It is also mildly implied that the house Hana chooses was the home of her werewolf partner – the mountains in the area look exactly as the ones in a picture he was carrying, while inside the house there are signs that someone had been raising children in it in the past.

Finally, Yuki and Ame can do whatever they want without fear of being seen by other people. The opposing personalities of the two siblings begin to show – Yuki is a night unstoppable force of nature; she hunts, chases cats, climbs trees, while Ame prefers to either stay with Hana (observing her as she works towards renovating the house) or hide behind his sister’s back as he watches her antics. While Yuki is the strong, independent one, the frail Ame finds himself attacked and injured by wild animals.


Soon, the time comes for Hana to teach her children about who they are and how they should behave – she tells them it is their secret and that they should never transform into wolves in front of other people because they would create a panic. She also asks them not to act arrogant in front of forest animals, if they ever meet any.

But as the children grow, questions about their identity begin to appear one after another. Ame reads a fairytale about a big bad wolf being chased away by village hunters, which makes him question why wolves are so disliked by humans. While Yuki embraces her lupine side and quickly learns how to hunt small animals, Ame becomes miserable about being a wolf, arguing that humans hate wolves and that in stories wolves are always the villains who get killed in the end – because of which he refuses to be a wolf. On the other hand, having overheard Hana’s conversation with some neighbours, Yuki pesters her mother that she send them to a nursery school and wants to know why she hasn’t done so already. When Hana refuses to send Yuki to a nursery school, the girl throws a tantrum and keeps saying that she would manage to keep her secret among other children. Hana begins to realise that inevitably she will have to take the risk and let the energetic Yuki go to school.


In the meantime, however, winter arrives with all its snowy glory, bringing with it an incident that, in the long run, will have a profound effect on the family’s future. On one winter morning, when snow covers everything in sight, Hana takes her children to the forest so they can play in the snow. Yuki and Ame run as fast as they can through the snow as wolves, with Hana following them as fast as she can and picking up the clothes they leave behind when they shapeshift. Unfazed by the cold because of their wolf fur, the kids have a great time and the day seems to be just perfect… until Ame sees a belted kingfisher land on a rock in the nearby river. Suddenly, up until now dormant instincts awaken the hunter inside him and he leaps and catches the bird in his jaws. Proud of his accomplishment, Ame starts heading back onto the bank, but trips over his scarf and falls into the water. The strong current starts carrying him downstream and the little wolf can hardly keep his head out of the water. Turning back into a human, he calls for Hana’s help, but she is too far away to come to his aid quickly enough. In the chaos, the river’s current causes the boy to hit his head on a protruding rock and he begins to drown. Luckily, Yuki, who was still nearby and noticed the disappearance of her brother, comes to his rescue. Hana arrives at the scene soon after and finds an exhausted Yuki and a naked Ame lying on the river’s bank. Afraid that he’s dead, Hana starts trying to wake him up and is relieved when he starts speaking to her. The event proves to be a life-changing moment for Ame – he tells his mother how good he felt when he caught the kingfisher, saying that he felt as though he could do anything and that finally he wasn’t afraid. From that day onwards, as Yuki describes, the boy becomes a completely different person.

Winter ends and Yuki turns six. She starts doing everything in her power to persuade her mother to let her go to elementary school (instead of being home-schooled, I suppose). Seeing her determination, Hana agrees, but forbids Yuki to turn into a wolf among other children. To seal the promise, she teaches Yuki a short nursery rhyme which she tells her is a spell that will prevent her from turning into a wolf. Of course, this is all just make-believe, but it adds the little girl confidence that she will manage to keep her wolf side hidden. Yuki is beyond herself with happiness on her first day at school. Although at first she loses a bit of confidence, for the first time being surrounded by so many people, but she quickly adapts and makes friends. She doesn’t have to turn into a wolf to prove a little different from other children – she eats a lot more than others (though, she has always been a glutton, so it might not have anything to do with her being a werewolf) and can run faster and for longer periods of time than other children during P.E. lessons.

Once Yuki goes to school, Hana decides to start looking for a job. When Ame points out the picture of a wolf on a recruitment poster for the local natural park, Hana decides to take him with her to the meeting of possible candidates for park ranger assistants. She takes the job despite the low pay in order to learn more about the local wildlife, hoping that the knowledge she gains while working will help her in raising her children. 


By Hana’s request, the chief park ranger leads them to where the wolf from the poster is held. The chief explains that it is a timber wolf supposedly born in the Moscow zoo, which was then taken in by a wealthy someone who received a special permit to raise it, but when they passed away, the wolf was brought in to the park’s shelter and stayed there ever since. When the chief leaves the room for a moment, Hana tries to get the old wolf to give her advice on how to raise her son, but the animal just gives her a lonely stare. On their way back from the park, Ame comments that the old wolf seemed very lonely and asks if his father looked like him, which Hana denies. The boy wishes he could have meet his father and Hana understands his feelings.

Meanwhile at school Yuki is in for quite a shock when, in time, it turns out that her interests differ greatly from those of other girls. To say she is a tomboy would probably be an understatement. While her friends weave flower wreaths and find four-leaf clovers during an outing, Yuki presents them with a snake wrapped around her arm, which scares the living daylights out of the other girls. On another occasion, the girls bring their ‘treasure boxes’ to school to show off what they got from their parents (which usually turns out to be jewellery) – and are again scared and disgusted when Yuki’s box turns out to be filled with animal bones, skins and pines (trophies of her hunts and adventures in the woods, possibly). All this causes Yuki to become treated with an increasing distance by her classmates. Embarrassed by this, the girl makes a resolution to behave as womanly as she can so that she’s accepted by those around her. When Hana asks why she won’t just be who she is, Yuki replies angrily that she doesn’t want to be considered a weirdo. This aspect of her personality – her eagerness to fit into the human society – becomes her defining trait, as well as something that will later cause conflict between her and her brother.

A year later, Ame reluctantly enrolls at the same elementary school as his sister. It quickly becomes evident that school is something not for him. In an environment where Yuki flourishes, Ame finds himself lonely and disinterested (and later on bullied by his classmates). All in all, he lasts less than three years at school before he starts playing truant. In a symbolic scene where the boy stands at a crossroads near home (one way leading to where the school bus stops, the other way leading to the natural park), Ame shows that he is more interested in accompanying his mother to her work at the natural reserve. While she’s working, he spends time in the company of the old timber wolf, transforming into his anthropomorphic wolf form in front of him. It is visible that Ame is greatly missing a fatherly figure in his life.


In the meantime, a boy by the name of Souhei transfers to Yuki’s class. He instantly proves a nuisance to Yuki when he asks her if her family has a pet dog. When the girl asks why he thinks that, Souhei replies that she smells of dog fur. Yuki is taken aback by the boy’s remark, because no one else pointed such a thing to her before, and becomes afraid that her secret might come to light.

Now, this situation proved some food for thought for me. Why would Yuki smell of dog in her human form and why would Souhei be able to notice it? The answer to the former could be that the scent of a wolf could remain on Yuki after she transforms, especially on her hair, because unlike many werewolf incarnations she does not grow all of her hair when she turns into a wolf – as it is show numerous times throughout the movie, the hair on her head remains largely unchanged when she shapeshifts. This leads me to believe that a canine scent could remain on her hair even after she’s gone back to being a human. In this case, it would mean that either nobody else asked Yuki about it because they straight-up dismissed it as her having a pet dog, or that Souhei happens to have a very keen sense of smell (which does happen sometimes; and don’t worry, he’s just a human, as the movie eventually shows us – or, to be precise, doesn’t show us it being otherwise). Another theory I had is that Yuki retains a nearly-absent lupine scent which can only be smelled by those with very good noses… for example, dogs. This theory would explain why dogs always bark at our werewolves – they are able to notice that they smell like wolves, but look like humans. This is, of course, an idea that doesn’t take into account any pheromones produced by the werewolf’s glands even when in human form (remember all those times werewolves in human form are shown to possess a nigh irresistible sex appeal?), not to mention dismisses any supernatural reasons why a man’s best friend would see through a lycanthrope’s disguise.

Either way, Yuki decides that it will be best for her to avoid further interaction with her new classmate. But, much to her dismay, Souhei becomes persistent in trying to find out why she’s giving him the cold shoulder, in spite of being repeatedly told by her that it’s nothing he should be concerned about. Stubbornly, he follows Yuki and eventually corners her, trying to force her to tell him the truth. Although she keeps repeating the rhyme her mother taught her when she first went to school, Yuki is so scared that she loses control. Partially transformed, she punches Souhei and injures his ear.


Hana is then called to come to the school from work, where she and Yuki are confronted by Souhei’s livid mother in the principal’s office. Embarrassed, terrified, and sad about what happened, Yuki is forced to apologise (despite the fact that if Souhei hadn’t been so stubborn, the incident might’ve never happened in the first place). In the midst of Souhei’s mother’s threats of lawsuit, the boy says that he was hurt by a wolf, which horrifies Hana. When the meeting is over, Yuki tells her mother that ‘the spell’ didn’t work however many times she repeated it. She says is afraid that she will be expelled from school and that they won’t be able to live in their countryside house anymore before bursting into tears.

Souhei, however, does not give up. One afternoon, instead of going home, he takes the school bus and visits Yuki’s house just before Hana arrives back from work. Seeing the car approach, he leaves a sheet of paper on the doorstep and runs away. It turns out that it is a handout from class for the absent Yuki who is lying in bed, depressed. Unwilling to confront him, Yuki stays at home, while Souhei apparently tries to win her forgiveness and friendship by leaving her gifts, as well as bringing her handouts and homework on his way back from school. On one such occasion Hana asks him inside, because Yuki’s gone to visit her best friend. She asks him why he said that a wolf hurt him, to which he replies that he was sure he saw a wolf for a split second before he fell to the ground and that by saying it was a wolf he meant to defend Yuki, but nobody believed him. When asked if he hates wolves, Souhei disagrees. After that, although still a little reluctantly, Yuki goes back to school and becomes friends with Souhei.


At the same time, Ame informs Hana that he is going to meet ‘the Teacher’ (or ‘the Master’, depends on how you want to translate it) on the mountain. He explains that he calls him that because he teaches him a lot about the mountain forest, as well as life in general. Hana assumes he’s talking about someone living up on the mountain and praises her son for becoming friends with someone older, but when she asks Ame to bring him home sometime, the boy replies that the Teacher doesn’t want to meet humans and that he doesn’t come down from the mountain like boars and bears. At this point Hana realises that the Teacher isn’t human, but doesn’t say anything. Instead, she agrees to go meet him when Ame proposes that the Teacher may let her see him. It turns out that the Teacher is an old fox that lives in the forest near a great tree. Still astounded by this revelation, Hana thanks him for taking care of Ame and offers him food, which he accepts. Wolf-Ame is then shown run off into the forest with the Teacher. Following the old fox’s lead, Ame learns how to climb mountains, how to hunt small animals, where to find fresh water to drink, and observes the life of forest animals like only one of them could.

The Teacher sparks in Ame an awe at and a love for the wilderness surrounding his home. Ame eagerly tells Hana about what he’s learned about the forest and its inhabitants when he accompanies her to work. Seeing the grin on his face when he recounts all these things, Hana realises that this is what really makes him happy. One evening, however, this becomes the source of conflict between him and his sister. While Yuki’s doing homework, Ame tries to persuade her to let the Teacher teach her as well, telling her about the skills she would gain or improve upon if she did so. She refuses and in reply asks him why he won’t come to school. They quickly begin to argue after Ame states that he won’t go to school because he’s a wolf and all that he needs to know is on the mountain, while Yuki tells him that he is also a human and so he should go to school like she does. Yuki also reveals to him that she decided to never turn into a wolf again, because she wants to be a human. The scene is a decisive moment for the siblings, as it represents how divergent from each other their paths in life have become over the years. With neither side able to persuade the other, the argument turns into a wolf-on-wolf fight. The two wolf siblings thrash the interior of the house, with Hana powerless to talk sense into them. Eventually, Yuki forfeits the fight by escaping and locking herself in the bathroom. 


Hana admits to herself that although allowing her children freedom of choice in the matter of who they want to be was what she always wanted, she can’t help feeling worried about what the future will bring.

Two more years pass (in the plot, of course!) before we enter the final part of the movie, which will bring the awaited climax of the story. Yuki turns eleven and is in the last year of elementary school (which in Japan is 6th grade). Ame has been visiting the forest more frequently than before as he devotes himself to overseeing the well-being of the mountain and its inhabitants. It is revealed that the year has seen many severe downpours, which make Ame worried about the forest creatures, including the Teacher. During his outings, he leaves home for so long that Hana begins to worry about him. On one of the numerous rainy days Ame returns home with a sad face. He tells his mother that the Teacher has injured his leg and that he will die soon since he can’t walk anymore. He says that somebody (that is, him) has to take over the Teacher’s responsibilities as the forest’s overseer. Concerned, Hana forbids Ame to go to the mountain again, arguing that he’s only ten years old and that while a wolf at ten is already an adult, he’s still got ways to go…but stops abruptly, realising that her children aren’t ordinary children. Out of motherly concern, she begs him not to visit the mountain again, but deep down inside she knows that it’s inevitable.

Forced to stay home, Ame is like a caged bird. Finally, the decisive moment comes when one afternoon a great storm comes to the countryside. Because of it, Yuki’s afternoon classes are cancelled and Hana is called to pick her daughter up from school. Rain is already pouring down from the sky and a strong wind is blowing outside. After she puts on a raincoat, Hana notices that Ame is gone. She then sees his silhouette as he is heading for the mountain and decides to pursue him, forgetting about Yuki. And yes, this is pretty much what happens for the last twenty minutes of the movie – Hana is wading through the muddy forest searching for Ame, while Yuki and Souhei (whose mother also didn’t come to pick him up) stay together at school and talk. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that’s that, since I already said this was the movie’s climax. Two important things happen on this fateful day.

First of all, Yuki shares an intimate moment with Souhei (and it’s not the kind of ‘intimate’ you’re probably thinking about). When he tells her the truth about his mother’s attitude towards him and describes how he wants to run away from home and live all by himself, Yuki decides that it would be a good moment for her to reveal the truth about what happened when she accidentally injured his ear. She tells Souhei how she envies him that he can tell the truth about himself and still smile afterwards. She then transforms and shows herself to him, confessing that the wolf that hurt him that day was really her.


Yuki says that she’s never told anyone else about this and that the inability to tell the truth about what happened to him caused her to suffer all these years. To her surprise, Souhei doesn’t seem startled – in fact, he tells her that he knew about her being a werewolf from the day of the incident, but admits that he’s never told anyone about her secret nor will he ever do so. This show of understanding moves Yuki to tears. She is finally able to get rid of the burden of guilt she’s been carrying for such a long time and achieve redemption.

Meanwhile, while still trying to find Ame, Hana slips on the muddy terrain and tumbles down a hillside. She loses consciousness and lies on the ground at the foot of the hill until nightfall. During this time she has another dream-like vision, similar to the one from the beginning of the movie. She is calling out Ame’s name, looking for him in the same meadow of flowers as before. She thinks she sees his silhouette, but as she comes closer, she finds that it’s not her son, but her late partner (one has to admit, however, that Ame is a spitting image of his father). The Wolfman apologises to Hana for the trouble he caused her and compliments her that she has raised their children well. Hana then remembers that she has to find Ame, but the Wolfman calms her down by assuring her that the boy will be just fine because he’s an adult and has found his own world which he wants to be a part of. Thus, Hana’s mind is put to rest.

Out in the real world, Ame finds his mother and carries her, still unconscious, out of the forest. She wakes up as the dawn is breaking, just in time to see her son leave. Sobbing, she calls out to him, asking if this is goodbye and apologising to him that there are still many things she would like to do for him, but won’t be able to. This makes him hesitate for a few moments, but eventually the call of the wild prevails and the now fully-grown wolf leaps back into the bushes, leaving the crying Hana behind. As the morning sun shines through the parting clouds in a symbolic image of a new beginning, Ame lets out a long howl – hearing it, Hana realises that this is how it’s meant to be and a smile lights up her face. The mythological guardian spirit of the mountain has returned.


In the epilogue, we learn that a year after that Yuki goes to junior high school and moves out to live in the school’s dormitory. Hana is shown to still live peacefully in their house in the country. In the closing scene, she is shown sitting looking at the picture of her werewolf husband. The wind then carries the howl of a wolf down from the mountains and Hana listens to it with closed eyes and a smile on her face.

Impressions & Evaluation

Wolf Children is, for the viewer, a movie adventure steeped in Japanese wolf folklore. It is an animated drama about choices every one of us has to make in order to stay true to themselves, as well as about human strength for overcoming hurdles that life puts in our way. As a werewolf movie, it’s one of those productions that provide the viewer with a quite a bit more food for thought than the usual slashers. It explores the hurdles that a half-wolf half-human being has to face living in a human society and the decisions they have to make about their lives and who they really are. As the wolf children grow up, they have to find an answer to the question which appearance is the mask they have to wear and which is the real them. In the case of Yuki and Ame, the lines they decide to draw are thick and their choices seem to be either black or white – Yuki chooses to live as a human and never change into a wolf, while Ame chooses the life of a wolf, probably never returning back to the human world. The only character that seems to successfully blend between the two worlds – and thus make the most of who he is – is the Wolfman, who works in the city as a human, but is shown to regularly hunt as a wolf. Hosoda shows that even in a country where the wolf is a figure deeply rooted in the native folklore children still read fairy tales where the wolf is demonised and feared. He also shows the lack of understanding of the society and the fear of things it doesn’t understand, which forces our characters to live in isolation for a long time. The movie does not, however, condemn the entire society – it also shows that there are those who are tolerant and open-minded (first Hana, then Souhei).

When I first watched Wolf Children, I felt moved – which is more than can be said about many other titles that I’ve seen over the years. I kept wondering what the story would be like had the Wolfman survived and I was both happy and a little sad about what happened to his children. Happy because they each found their own calling in life and had the freedom to decide who they want to be – and sad because of the way it happened and how neither of them could strike a balance between their inherent dual nature. All in all, however, in my opinion Wolf Children is a movie worth watching for every werewolf fan. The story is interesting, hilarious at times and heart-breaking at others, the animation is fluid and pleasant to the eye (if a little wobbly every now and then), and the orchestral music by Masakatsu Takagi that accompanies  it emphasises the events on-screen and clearly resembles the animated works by Studio Ghibli. Every now and then it is very refreshing to watch a werewolf movie that provides the viewer with a different perspective from the one that has been fed to us for years upon years where werewolves are portrayed as unredeemable villains. So if you’ve got two hours on your hands (yes, that’s how long this movie is) on a weekend evening, Hosoda’s Wolf Children is definitely something to watch.

9.5/10


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4 comments:

  1. Whew. What a long way I came. I thought of browsing through pictures on the net, it was the only "remotely explicit scene" in the movive that came to my attention because in my mind, I thought of people who look or use at that particular stuff would be doing something bad with it, that's something that is common in the modern society, isn't it? Quite. But by defence against sexual content is built up, and hence my thoughts has to stay pure. The reason I clicked on it was to investigate what and who would use this image.

    But who knew that was the thing that led me to this long, long analysis about this one movie that had me obcessed with it for such a long time?

    I was actually looking for that VERY thing within your review and analysis, though I never did find it.

    What was I looking for, if you would ask, I think you would after my statement above.

    The answer, is the writing of themes mentioning parental love.

    I was reminded of the great kindness of everyone, including other animals's parents.Be it human or be it animals, we are all with parents. No one is without a parent, as the director had stated in an interview. But everyone knows that, right?

    The greatness of parental love, is almost inexplainable in words. They gave us life, they raised us, fed us, took care of us when in need, protected us.. you name it. There isn't a single thing that a parent wouldn't do to keep their children happy, fulfilled, peaceful and safe.

    While people are busy criticizing the film, you're focusing on analyzing the film, I did not fully analyze it yet. And yet, I have seen it multiple times and I was convinced of it's strength. A great movie, it can be considered. You're writing a lot of theory about werewolves, I didn't see a lot of thoughts about what I mentioned above.

    Actually, I'm not surprised.

    Why? Because many people often forget the greatness of parents nowadays. We're too busy engrossed in our luxuries and delights to remember the great things that our parents have done for us, and that's exactly what the film has struck within me, the guilt of not respecting or being respectful to my own parents. Even if they often quarrel, I still have to respect them. Remember, Parents are human beings too, they are not without faults, and we must forgive them for what they do wrong and advice them to change.

    Here's my question: Did the film evoke the feelings that I mentioned above?


    I'm running out of word space here, I'll stop here.

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    1. Thank you very much for your long and elaborate comment! I really appreciate it.

      You do raise a valid point which I didn't focus on while watching and analysing (from a werewolf fan point of view) the movie. The theme of parental love is indeed one that pervades the whole of "Wolf Children". Hana is portrayed as an exemplary mother - although her children are 'different', unlike other children, she loves them unconditionally and does whatever she can, often making great sacrifices, to provide her offspring with safety and adequate conditions to develop and find their own paths in life. She doesn't abandon them, she doesn't give up on them, even though her life is difficult at the beginning. And she doesn't turn her back on them once they've chosen their calling in life. Even when Ame abruptly separates himself from her and chooses the life of a wolf, she fights back the tears and smiles, glad that he's found happiness. And, of course, she supports Yuki throughout school and beyond, even if not directly, since she's not living with her anymore. So yes, the theme of parental love is very strong here, just like you said, and is beautifully portrayed throughout the ups and downs our characters have to face. And I think that this multi-layer structure with a multitude of themes, not all obvious at first glance, is what makes "Wolf Children" a truly great movie.

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