Japan has never really embraced the werewolf picture despite the fact that their own folklore includes many tales of animals transforming into humans. While most western werewolf movies are horror films, Wolf Children takes the concept in the opposite direction.
The story follows a young woman named Hana who is intrigued by a young man who sits in on one of her college courses. She discovers that he isn’t actually a student but a day laborer. The two become fast friends and eventually fall in love, which is a problem for the man because he harbors a secret. He can transform into a wolf. They eventually marry and have children, both of whom share his ability to become a wolf. They must be hidden until they can be made to understand how dangerous this ability might be for them in Japanese society.
Due to the nature of the story, it’s hard to explain the content without spoiling the plot. I’ll just say that it’s an impressive treatise on parenting. In this case, the sins of the father plague his children, and Hana is saddled with the task of helping them find their way through the world. Director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous feature, Summer Wars (reviewed HERE), featured a large extended family and this one a small nuclear family, but the emotions are the same. This is a moving film about true love. Not romance or infatuation, but unconditional love and acceptance. It’s an altogether pleasant experience.
Hosoda began his career in television anime but he’s shed that shallow aesthetic completely. Wolf Children is the work of a mature artist with lots to say about his homeland. This is his third feature and it shines more brightly than even the most recent Studio Ghibli releases. While he makes some color choices that don’t appeal to me, there’s no denying that he has a keen visual eye. The only thing better than his eye is his story sense, and I credit his increased success with a move away from other people’s scripts.
The animation here is astonishingly good. Yes, there’s a lot of computer work on display, but the CGI environments never overwhelm the characters. I was riveted by the subtle animation that made every single character recognizable and sympathetic. It’s important to note that there are no villains in this tale. Conflict, yes, but no one is evil. Like many of the better Japanese films, Wolf Children is the welcome antithesis of the formulaic Hollywood feature.
All production departments deliver, but it’s the score by Masakatsu Takagi that stands out. It’s a pastoral composition that really sets the tone for the movie and maintains it throughout. While I won’t be humming the theme song, the music both grounds the story and allows it to fly.
I can’t say enough good things about this feature. It’s that rare family film that will be equally compelling to all ages. Very highly recommended.