Hana, a hard-working college student, falls in love with a mysterious man who attends one of her classes though he is not an actual student. As it turns out, he is not truly human either. On a full moon night, he transforms, revealing that he is the last werewolf alive. Despite this, Hana's love remains strong, and the two ultimately decide to start a family.
Hana gives birth to two healthy children—Ame, born during rainfall, and Yuki, born during snowfall—both possessing the ability to turn into wolves, a trait inherited from their father. All too soon, however, the sudden death of her lover devastates Hana's life, leaving her to raise a peculiar family completely on her own. The stress of raising her wild-natured children in a densely populated city, all while keeping their identity a secret, culminates in a decision to move to the countryside, where she hopes Ame and Yuki can live a life free from the judgments of society. Wolf Children is the heartwarming story about the challenges of being a single mother in an unforgiving modern world.
Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki won the 2013 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year, the 2012 Mainichi Film Award for Best Animation Film, and the 2013 Animation of the Year award at the Tokyo International Anime Fair. It won two awards at the Oslo Films from the South festival in Norway: the main award, the Silver Mirror, and the audience award. It won an Audience Award at 2013 New York International Children's Film Festival and the 2014 Best Anime Disc award from Home Media Magazine.
OK so bear in mind that this will be a very subjective review. I watched Wolf Children because I really liked Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and because everyone said it was amazing and a tear-jerker. However by the time I finished watching it, I was just angry at it. Here's why:
This movie certainly ranks 10/10 for most frustrating movie I've ever watched. Not even ridiculously beautiful backgrounds and high quality art direction can save a film with slow, barely-there plot and irritating characters. I couldn't empathise with any of them because they consistently made dumb decisions
for no reason (especially the mother) making me yell at the screen "why would you even do that?" which is what you really *don't* want your audience experience to be.
Let me list every significant moment that made me want to pull my hair out: 1) woman in college gets pregnant after literally having sex with a wolf (calling him a wolf because he didn't even have the decency to change into a human for at least the duration of the act - call me a prude but I find bestiality really off-putting in a movie that is supposed to be about a cute family going about their lives), 2) woman casually accepts throwing away her entire life to raise a kid with her werewolf boyfriend (about whom we get the absolute minimum amount of backstory or any kind of characterisation beyond "he looks cool" and "he's a werewolf with a difficult childhood"), 3) woman gives birth at home without a midwife or anybody to help in case something goes wrong, 4) woman gets pregnant YET AGAIN, 5) gives birth at home AGAIN, 6) werewolf dad leaves the house and inexplicably dies, 7) mother takes her unvaccinated children and moves to the middle of nowhere.
Pause. I understand that I pretty much just summarised the first quarter of the movie, but this is exactly why I found Wolf Children to be so exhausting. And yes, a lot of these criticisms are because of my personal beliefs, but hey I never said this review was going to be objective.
Before I continue let me mention the only character I liked in this movie; old man Nirasaki, the family's cranky neighbour that teaches the mother the basics of farming, because he sees how irritatingly useless she is. Over 10 minutes of this film are used to show us how hard-working she is. In general, Wolf Children manages to stretch a plot that could have been shown in 30 minutes into 2 hours by filling it with repetitive, redundant scenes that do not advance the plot. The only time this isn't done is in the quite brilliant lateral shot that shows the children growing up (shortening 4 years into a few seconds without using any cuts or dialogue). And this is one of the most frustrating things about this movie: it's beautiful. Artfully crafted, brilliantly animated. Which is the reason why I think so many people were fooled by it. Sure it has its nice moments, but their effect is diluted by the blandness of the rest of the film. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate slow paced, slice-of-life films, but Wolf Children's pacing was all wrong. It started with an interesting premise and then did nothing with it.
But let me come back to the frustrating moments near the end of the movie (because I honestly can't remember much that happened during the middle of the film - it was so nothingy):
During a storm, the mother chases after her werewolf son who goes into the forest (which he has been doing regularly, for months) instead of picking up her daughter who is stranded at school. She calls after him over and over again, almost gets attacked by a bear, falls down a cliff, and just when you think that something significant will actually happen in this movie, it turns out she's just fine after her son picks her up and just dumps her outside the forest. Her psychopath of a son is 10 at that point. And I am 110, having aged prematurely waiting for this damn movie to end.
Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki translates to "Wolf Children Ame and Yuki". What the film's title promises is accurate, but this is secondary to what the film is actually about. This is a movie entirely about the enduring and triumphant nature of maternal love.
Teenage Hana is a hardworking girl putting herself through college. During a class, her eyes fall on a man who enthusiastically and diligently takes notes, but he has no textbooks and he disappears before roll is taken. Intrigued, she searches him out and learns that he sits through classes but doesn't attend the school. From what we see, he works
with a moving company, delivering goods to houses. He comes to university and bums through classes to learn. Hana works at a laundromat to make ends meet, and meets him when her day is over. We never learn of this man's name, but he becomes Hana's world, and she, his. Then their worlds are joined then broadened with the births of their children.
To call this film a movie about "werewolves" is doing it a mighty injustice. To call it a spirited, charming and heart-rending look about family is more accurate. And while it is always about the "ookami no kodomo", it is carried by Hana's life. Hana does what she can to keep her children safe and alive. She removes them from the urbanised world and carries them deep into a rural village where they are free to develop and understand the other half of them.
The film can be divided into three clear arcs. The first finds Hana in love, developing a relationship. The second follows Hana's struggles to raise her young children who have special needs. The final one sees her settled while her children attempt to find their own places in the world. A recurring theme throughout each arc is that there is a reason to always keep smiling.
Ookami Kodomo is a film of change and self-discovery. Yuki begins the film feral and wild, easily embracing her lupine half while Ame, tearful and timid, is afraid of what it means to be part-wolf. As the years pass, Hana's resolve remains unwavering, but her children grow apart from her as children naturally do. With this growth, they also change. The film changes focus from Hana as the children grow older, giving us their insight and feelings about who they are. Yuki's desire to belong allows her to channel charisma into socialising with peers. Ame's introversion makes him steely and independent. Yuki wants to embrace her humanity while Ame wants to explore the animal. Ame and Yuki yearn for something more, just as their mother knows they would but is afraid to acknowledge.
The story carefully and gently handles the fantasy so that it never overwhelms the film. There are no transformation hijinks or forced comedy or drama. The film treats the wolf children naturally. They seamlessly transform into their wolf-forms and out again. Some of the greatest scenes animated in the movie are these transformations as they move in and out of their dual identities.
The animation for the most part is fluid, with beautiful art painting a lovely countryside and the wilderness. Sometimes the film suffers from poorly chosen CGI effects, repeated animation and disproportionate character models, but this does not take away from the movie's overall beauty. Hana and the children's country home is clearly inspired by the 1988 classic My Neighbour Totoro, even down to Yuki's exuberant exploration of the broken down shed and the wild grass growing everywhere. Adding to the atmosphere of the film is a well-thought out score which knows precisely what type of music fits a mood. Sometimes, especially in the beginning and ending of the film, it can be a little heavy-handed with its emotional outbursts, but largely, it works and it makes itself invaluable to the film's impact. The voice-acting for the movie is one of its strongest aspects. Having child actors to play Yuki and Ame's characters in their toddler stages was a wise choice, as their earnest delivery of their lines makes the characters more genuine and loveable.
Ookami Kodomo's characters are the major reason that any viewer will become easily involved. Hana is one of the most inspirational characters ever to be given life through animation. Her love for her family is apparent. If anything, I'm pretty sure some of this film's audience is going to feel a pang of affection for their own mothers. She dutifully cares for them in ways that are admirable and it is her unbreakable spirit and positive disposition that makes her noteworthy. She is a strong woman and an even stronger mother. The mysterious man who she loves doesn't have the chance to be developed but it is this shroud around him that works to his character's benefit. We care for him through Hana's affections; in one particularly jarring scene, we understand what he means to her and this breaks our heart more than he himself ever would.
Yuki and Ame carry the film in places their mother cannot. While her hopes and fears for them are palpable, it is their experience of hope and of fear that makes these feelings more acute. Yuki's voice takes us through the entire film with its steady narration, and her character grows from precocious and brave child to a young girl who unfortunately knows what it means to be afraid. Ame's behaviour becomes a bit frustrating in the end of the film, but to understand him in the context of an animal, it makes perfect sense. He is a wolf.
The rest of the cast is made up of extremely likeable characters, including the old man who looks after Hana when she moves to the village and Souhei, a boy who crosses paths with Yuki. Even non-speaking, non-human characters like the caged wolf whose pain Ame senses and the wild fox whose freedom Ame respects are indispensable.
While the film's imperfections are honestly very few, they add up enough to have it stop just short of being a masterpiece. With some tighter editing of the story, cleaner and consistent art and animation, more precise handling of the characters, and a more memorable soundtrack, it easily would have been a masterwork of anime. As it is, it is still essential viewing for anyone interested in a movie that looks at growing up and raising a family. It is a mature, insightful and often painful reflection of how deeply we feel about those we love and inevitably have to let go of.
I saw this film yesterday and, having enjoyed it immensely, was pleased to read that it has won the award for Best Animated Feature Film at the 45th annual Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival (a Spanish film festival). This perhaps comes as little surprise given that it is the work of Mamoru Hosoda, acclaimed director of "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" and "Summer Wars" (both of which also won the same award at previous Sitges festivals). I dare say that Mamoru has exceeded himself with this film, taking observations and musings from his own life - the film supposedly being based on thoughts he
had when, at one point in his life, he was 'surrounded by all these women who suddenly became pregnant' - and translating them into a beautiful tale of young parenthood, unusual childhood, and the powerful changes self-discovery incurs on adolescent life.
The story is both simple and elegant, with a well constructed plot that follows the above mentioned periods of a young family in a emotionally dynamic and charming manner, evoking joy and humour in equal measure, and just the right amount of melancholy and distress. This is helped by the endearing, often cute - in a fashion non-stereotypical of modern anime trends, and thus refreshing - and naturalistic characters (again, no ridiculous anime archetypes to be seen here really, and the one 'expy' in the film is a rather respectful and very amusing pastiche of Clint Eastwood). Indeed, despite the fact that the eponymous kids are indeed wolf-children, their stories are those of many a young person - the desires to fit in with society and conversely to take ones own path through life are explored in a counterbalanced fashion between the two siblings, which adds great depth to their intertwining tales. Even if we are too young to have experienced the hardships and joys of parenthood, or fortunate enough not to have experienced the loss of a spouse or parent at a young age, most of us will still likely relate in some way to the young lives of Ame and Yuki.
The elegance of the plot and tone of the story are complemented perfectly by the exquisite animation, which was in fact created in 3D and then augmented with 2D (apparently the opposite of the anime film norm). The effect is that the simple, familiar art style one might associate with a Ghibli production or Mamoru's other works is given that extra bit of depth, that touch more of aesthetic richness, and so when a scene that makes full use of the visuals comes along, one is treated to breath-taking feats of visual artistry, thus augmenting the whole experience as a whole. Underpinning all this is an equally impressive soundtrack, as well as superb sound design - I felt that the subtle crescendo of the rain in the first sequence in which Hana searches for a missing loved one was almost harrowing in its evocation of her growing despair. As a composer myself, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the effective use of interesting metres and rich textures throughout the movie, and thought the music did a great job emphasising and revealing the emotive nature of the film.
I saw the film in Edinburgh as part the Scotland Loves Anime festival, but because it had already aired in London last week, it was ineligible for that particular festival's award. If it had been, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have taken that home as well, for as a film (read: piece of visual art, as opposed to Otaku fan service) it was invariably better than all the others on offer. Indeed, it is without doubt one of the best animated films I have ever seen, on par with if not better than many of Ghibli's best efforts. I thus implore anyone who has read this and not seen it to go watch it at the first available and convenient opportunity. I'd be greatly surprised, and even perhaps worried, if it fails to warm you heart to at least half the degree that it did mine.
Stories that span a long time (i.e. more than 5 years) have the opportunity to express a change in the characters and in the world around them. It's something that makes great films great. Forrest Gump is a great example of this use. Wolf Children is not. What this film does is give us short anecdotes of Hana as she experiences what it's like to not only be a single mother but a single mother raising werewolf children. You'd think this means the film would have many interesting events that take place; you'd be wrong.
From the get go, the film feels like one long and
arduous flashback. The narration makes this clear, but the pacing implies that it's not going to change anytime soon. That said, the pacing is this weird mix of flashback and actual narrative (an empty narrative full of fluff and good feelings with little dimension.) It goes on for the longest time, and we experience it for about an hour and a half. It's only then that we reach an interesting arc of character as the children are now old enough to think and be people.
I understand that the majority of the film is spent on how Hana cares for her children, but a lot of this is mini story arcs that have a problem that's solved in less than 10 minutes. This sort of narrative reaches a point where the second I see an issue arise, I instantly know it will be solved within a moments notice. With no surprises, I waited for a conflict that set itself apart from the previous ones, and that's where we reach the last 30-40 minutes.
This is when I felt more engaged. It's what I'd argue to be the real complicating incident. Yuki, Hana's daughter, ends up getting angry at a classmate and scratches his ear, nearly deafening him. Due to the previous conditioning I'd experienced (problem, then solution moments later) I was expecting this to be resolved very swiftly, so I was glad to notice that it became a primary event into her 'becoming of age.' ((This is not a spoiler because, in a way, it's the best 'complicating incident' this story has to offer))
Hana's son, Ame, goes through a 'becoming of age' conflict as well, and while I'm glad that the film is beginning to pick up, it's two different character arcs being jammed into the last third that could have been emphasized throughout the film. It too was a conflict I was expecting to find solved moments later, but at this point, I knew better.
Audio and Soundtrack:
Audio is fine. Nothing spectacular.
Soundtrack becomes boring and there was 1 song in particular that could have been titled "brain-rend." That said, it's this sort of soundtrack that disappoints me the most. Not because it's classical and primarily piano, but because every song sounds similar and is devoid of character theme. Not only that, the songs feel as though they were an after-thought. The films pacing paired with the music do not meld together.
The soundtrack in itself is one of two things:
1- The film was animated prior to the OST
2 - The songs were written prior to the storyboarding.
If they were in perfect sync during production, then they failed horribly to put them together convincingly.
It's beautiful, and that's the problem. Beauty erodes over time, and when the film shows countless landscapes that are hand-drawn with extreme care, it becomes stale. Outside of the setting, the characters move flawlessly and it feels fresh. That said, there are a few repeat scenes. This may be used for comedic effect, but to me, I've always considered this very lazy in animation. Other than that (and it's only in 3 or so scenes) there really aren't any complaints here. The animation here is top notch, and I really enjoyed it, despite the backgrounds growing unbelievably stale later on.
I have the same complaints with this film as I did with Haibane Renmei. Slow pacing with swift resolutions throughout, and an interesting ending arc that should have been elongated over the duration of it's long running time. Interestingly enough, both of these animated projects are relatively highly rated and both I've found to be a strenuous venture.
I wonder if I'm the error...
Just for reference:
A 4/10, in my book, is a rating I reserve for works that are just below the sufficient mark. They've shown that they can properly do some things but fail so much in others that all it would have taken is some more work to fix the kinks. It's also a grade I reserve for works that I feel didn't jell with me personally, but others have gravitated towards. It's an acceptance that I think it's bad, but it's not 3- bad. I don't feel like I should need to explain this, but someone spammed me a long and arduous message about how I didn't love my mother. Please don't send me a message about how I don't love my mother. If you do I'll show it to my friends and we'll make fun of you. We always need a good laugh.
If you want to discuss points of this work in a civil manner, feel free to send me a PM. While I didn't enjoy this work, I love talking about stories, no matter what kind.
((If you liked this review, friend me for new reviews on other works, both manga and anime!))
Tons of good anime movies have been made over the years. But why settle for good? We present to you a list of not 5, not 10, but 20 of some of the best anime movies in existence! Dig in and find some new and interesting Japanese animated movies to watch this year!
There is a ton of new anime each year and it can be hard to keep up with it all. Movies are especially tricky since they are a mix of original features and follow-ups for TV shows. Here on MyAnimeList, you can find the best films of 2012 in order to cross a few things off that endless To Watch list.