It’s been over a year since our stalwart freelancer, Nick Tapalansky, relayed , courtesy of Japan Air. Anticipation hasn’t ratcheted up since then, per se (not in the way it might for, say, the next EVA flick), but the movie’s here, at last, and it does live up to its nigh-unanimous kudos. This is a gentle and beautiful story, with truly poignant observations about human (and lupine) nature.
Like the best Ghibli films, its spectacle lies not in dazzling set pieces, but in the hypnotic illusion that Studio Chizu and director Mamoru Hosoda achieve as they render real people in all the cels. These are not larger-than-life personalities, nor broad caricatures, but real people who live and breathe and are full sorts of fragile vulnerabilities.
As the title spells out, WOLF CHILDREN follows two rambunctious werewolf cubs, Yuki and Ame, and their mother, Hana, a young widow grappling to simply understand the indescribable predicament fate has thrown her into. The first twenty odd minutes show her brief love affair with a college classmate, an unnamed wolfman, and the sudden end that befalls their marriage after his feral side tragically collides with the urban world.
Hana initially tries to keep her pups in the city, but prying eyes soon prove to be too much to deal with, and she decides to take the family to a fix-er-upper that’s as far out into the country side as they can get. What initially looks to be a dire situation, with Hana’s savings running out faster than she can get her vegetable garden going, proves to be a welcoming community. Yuki and Ame soon head off to the school, and find various to challenges to the integrity of their secret identities… and questions of whether they’d even want to keep them up.
Of the many qualities to crow about here, the film’s most striking for how it finds such honest humanity in a premise that could’ve started out as the idle curiosity of an over-stimulated genre aficionado. Strangely enough, it brings LET ME IN to mind, taking a very different angle on your traditional horror by showing us the scenes in-between the scenes we normally get. It’s easy to imagine the “wolf father” being the monster in some other story, or the wolf children going on to become the monsters of another tale, so there’s something truly precious and poignant about seeing these fleeting moments within those margins.
“Fleeting moments” is a term to circle back on, actually. One of the movie’s stand-out scenes shows a carefree run through the snow abruptly turning very tense, indeed, when Ame trips into a cold stream and bangs his head under the water. The switchback escalation of danger is so terrifying, it has all the visceral, messy immediacy of a real life accident.
For that moment, and several others, it’s easy to buy the conceit of a grown-up Yuki’s reflective narration and believe - - at least on some level - - that this all might’ve actually happened.
Of course, the trick about magical realism is that it actively draws attention to that fine line between fantasy and reality. For the most part, WOLF CHILDREN handles this rather balance gracefully, but I’d be lying if I said the sight of a woman tenderly kissing a wolf in bed didn’t spur unintentional snickers out of me.
Any deficiencies in the movie center on the baby daddy, to be honest. Perhaps it just came down to his line delivery (the rest of the dub cast was consistently great enough to be taken for granted), but the character’s brooding loner card was pushed hard enough as to invite unfavorable comparisons to TWILIGHT, at times. As cold as it is to say, given the emotional genuine gutpunch given out during his death scene, it’s for the benefit of the whole feature that the Wolfman’s scenes don’t last long.
From another angle, of course, that problem better strengthens the verisimilitude of the movie. Hana may have been a young fool, rushing into a relationship with a man she probably shouldn’t have avoided, and then falling into responsibilities she wasn’t ready for. And you can pretty easily sum up the movie’s “that’s life!” message right there, as watching this plucky young mother’s plight is consistently engaging and moving to behold. Highly recommended.
About the Author
|Tom Pinchuk’s a writer and personality with a large number of comics, videos and features like this to his credit. Visit his website - - tompinchuk.com - - and follow his Twitter: @tompinchuk|