It’s been a month or two since I watched Wolf Children so my thoughts on it aren’t really fresh. I’m calling this a “review” I guess, but it’s more an evaluation of what’s left of my impression of the film. Given my usual meandering, this may turn into more of a real review than most of what I write.
Wolf Children is about a human mother raising her half-human/half-wolf son and daughter. Directed by Hosoda Mamoru, it bears some similarities to his previous movies, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, but the changing perspectives of Wolf Children between the older sister Yuki, her brother Ame, and Hana the mother veers it away from the heavy teenager focus of the other films. Both Yuki and Ame are still children, and through Hana we get to see the two half-wolves as a mother would. This three-sided view, along with the fact that those individual views change significantly along the way, is core to the movie’s strength and emotional weight.
In order to fit into human society, the two wolf children are taught that they must hide their wolf sides, which is difficult for them because they transition between the two almost unconsciously. Having to keep their true selves a secret is one of the recurring themes of the movie, especially in terms of how difficult it is both on a pragmatic level and on a psychological one. Making them choose, even unintentionally, between human and wolf worlds clearly has an effect on how they view themselves. There’s a racism aspect to it, but also the idea that ultimately children decide their own paths, even if their parents disapprove or worry that it wasn’t the right choice. The fact that the “wolf” in them is actually the Japanese wolf, a once-indigenous and now-extinct species, the concept of the other that has been pushed out of society mingles with a softer message concerning environmentalism.
The visuals of the movie are quite beautiful, though one thing that really stands out to me is the variety of animation techniques on display. Throughout the movie there’s a mix of traditional animation, heavy rotoscoping in moments you wouldn’t expect it, compositing, and (I think) even some 3-D animation. It lends the movie a somewhat jarring feel at times, which didn’t jar me out of the film, but at least presented an interesting plethora.
Though talking about the specialness of anime is easily derided (and I’ve done so myself quite often), the use of the mother protagonist and the incorporation of a subdued supernatural element makes me think that such a film would not easily be made in, say, the United States, at least not as a mainstream film or even an animated one. In contrast, Wolf Children did enormously well in Japan. Like all of Hosoda’s movies, it’s worth seeing, and I think it shows a different side of his work.