Wolf Children is a beautiful film about the struggles of a mother raising two kids by herself. Stories about single mothers are not new, but what distinguishes this movie from the rest are the children who have inherited the ability to transform into wolves from their father. The concept may sound silly, and under an inexperienced director, it could have been an unsympathetic mess. Mamoru Hosoda’s fantastic direction, a strong emotional resonance, and gorgeous animation make Wolf Children an essential addition to any anime collection.
As a young girl, Hana lives an unsuspecting life: going to college, working a part time job, then coming home to cook herself a meal and do a little reading before bedtime. During class, her attention is drawn toward a mysterious young man and before long they fall for one another and begin a relationship. When Hana expresses her love for him, a great secret is revealed: he is a Wolfman, a shapeshifter and the last of his kind. Despite demonstrating his ability to transform into a wolf, Hana is undeterred and their love grows stronger and deeper. Living happily together, Hana eventually gives birth to a girl, Yuki, and a boy, Ame, who inherit their father’s ability to transform into wolves.
Life takes a tragic turn when Father goes missing. While looking for him, Hana is horrified to see the corpse of her husband in wolf form lying in a riverbed. In the film’s most heartbreaking scene, Hana is forced to watch as sanitation workers put the wolf carcass in a bag and toss him into a trash truck. Interestingly, Father’s death is treated rather callously and the film offers very little explanation as to the cause of his demise. The how and why are ultimately not important. Instead, the weight of the scene comes from the realization that Hana must raise two precocious wolf children alone. When their animal antics cause problems with the neighbors and child support services investigates them, Hana takes her kids to the rural countryside where they can live free from scrutiny.
The movie’s single mother angle may not be completely original, but shapeshifting children add a host of new challenges. When Yuki eats a silica gel packet, Hana must decide whether to take her to a children’s hospital or a veterinarian. When throwing a temper tantrum, Yuki will often shift into her wolf form and wreak destruction across the house. Hana’s inexperience and frustrations are typically played as entertainment for the audience, though we don’t laugh at her, just at the situations in which she finds herself. Hana is a very sympathetic character and when she finds a way to rise above her trials it’s difficult to not celebrate with her. This is nowhere more apparent than when Yuki and Ame reach adolescence and begin their own personal journeys.
Complementing the overall heartwarming and charming spirit of Wolf Children is the gorgeous animation that borrows a page from Miyazaki’s visual style. Everything from character animation to layouts has been drawn with such care, and there is a high attention to detail and level of expression. The character designs for Yuki and Ame as toddlers are absolutely adorable, specifically when they turn into their wolf forms. I couldn’t watch the movie in complete silence as I frequently heard myself aww-ing because the kids are just so darn cute.
Heartwarming, sweet, and beautifully animated, Wolf Children should be required viewing. Fans of Miyazaki’s films will see a connection with his animated style without mimicking it too much, resulting in a work that can be appreciated for its own merits.
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
117 minutes, Number of Discs: 3, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: 10+