The announcement of Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement surprised and saddened fans of excellent filmmaking as well as fans of Japanese animation. Many of Miyazaki’s own films and those under Studio Ghibli helped introduce Japanese animation to the world.
But even as Miyazaki has made what is likely his final film, there is still much to look forward to as a brand new generation of filmmakers look to continue the creativity and groundbreaking filmmaking Japanese animation has come to be known for. Mamoru Hosada’s Wolf Children is an excellent example.
Wolf Children is the breathtakingly animated and genre-bending story of Hana, a young college student who falls in love with a mysterious Wolfman. She gives birth to two children, Yuki and Ame. But not long after Ame’s birth, Hana finds her husband, in his wolf form, dead and being taken away by city workers.
Hana struggles to raise her two children on her own without any knowledge of how to raise wolf children. Yuki is temperamental and changes between human and wolf when she is upset. Ame is more reserved, meek. They are almost polar opposites, Yuki who regularly embraces her wolf side and Ame who refuses to become the hunted wolf like in the picture books he reads.
When things become too difficult for them in Tokyo, Hana decides to find them a secluded home in the countryside where they encounter a small close-knit and caring group of neighbors who help them learn how to live off the land. As the children grow so does their struggle to find their own identity and Hana’s struggle to keep her promise to her husband to raise their children well enough to give them the opportunity to choose their own paths.
Wolf Children‘s breathtaking animation supports an engrossing story of love, coming of age and community. It is equal parts fantasy and slice of life as Yuki narrates her parents’ love story and her mother’s love for her and her brother as they grow.
Wolf Children is a beautiful film. It is at times emotional and poignant, at other times melancholic. At the same time, the animation is at times very atmospheric and at other times bright and vivid. There are several amazing and dynamic sequences where we fly, speed and glide through the beautiful landscape. Then there are the emotionally and visually quiet moments that evoke both warmth and tension at the film’s most poignant moments.
Wolf Children comes to an almost abrupt ending that punctuates the film’s unique story but is much in line with the realizations and turning points that conclude the film. Japanese animated films have always proven that they can tackle mature themes alongside being family friendly fare. And this film and it’s affecting conclusion is no different.
The film has an ethereal quality and Yuki, as our narrator even points that out at the end. But it is that dreamlike journey through a both fantastical and realistic story that makes the film so engaging and enthralling. Emotional and breathtaking, Wolf Children is an absolute winner and just one sign that excellent films will continue to come out of Japan for a long time to come.