So, something a little different today. Having spent some time in Japan, working, making friends and absorbing the culture, one of the things I’ve noticed is the tendency to animate movies and series that Americans would produce with live actors. Japanese animated media – “anime,” for those who aren’t familiar with the term – runs the gamut of most media, from truly awful to entertaining to deeply thoughful. Mamoru Hosada’s feature film Wolf Children is one of the latter.
The primary character is a college girl, Hana, who meets and falls in love with a rather strange young man. Kare slips into college classes, listens and takes notes, but is not enrolled in the school. He works for a moving company, lifting and carrying boxes, and in so doing amasses a formidable series of observations on human families and human behavior.
Finally, as their relationship deepens, he reveals to Hana that he is in fact a wolf that can take human form. The Western term would be “werewolf,” but Kare is not a vicious monster, but rather a rather gentle-natured, affectionate man who occasionally has to let his feral nature hold sway, shift to his wolf form and hunt, pheasants seeming to be his preferred prey.
The two have two children, a girl, Yuki, and a boy, Ame. Shortly after Ame is born, Kare dies, apparently killed in an accident while in wolf form and carted away by a garbage service – after all, to their knowledge he was just a dead dog. Hana is left to raise two strange children on her own.
Strange children they are indeed – half human, half wolf, with a decided tendency to flip back and forth between the two at inopportune moments. After a brush with child services and several uncomfortable encounters with other families, Hana leaves Tokyo and takes the children to an old, run-down house in the mountains, far from the city. There, she hopes, the children can grown into their unusual natures in their own ways. “If you could only be one thing, would you want to be human,” she asks them at one point, “or wolf? I want you to have that choice.”
It is the growth of the children, and that inevitable choice, that makes up the balance of the story. The tale has many facets; the growing acceptance and affection shown to Hana and the children by the local farming families and residents of the small nearby village, the experiences the children have in the small local school, their exploration of both aspects of their unusual heritage.
It ends up as a beautiful coming-of-age story, showcasing the children’s transitions – somewhat predictably, one goes in each direction, human and wolf. It is also a compelling illustration of the difficulty parents can have adjusting to their children’s choices, and to their growing maturity.
Wolf Children is probably Mamoru Hosada’s masterpiece. It is interesting, touching, engaging, and has that best of all movie features, a happy ending. Check out the trailer, and enjoy the film – it’s well worth the watch.