I’ve read many reviews in which Wolf Children (about a werewolf’s widow who raises her children alone) is described as a very, very bizarre film, but I can’t say I understand why that is. It may certainly seem so, if you focus on the “wolf” side of the sentence. I was a bit taken aback myself when I first saw Hana, the protagonist, in an implied love scene with her wolf lover. But that’s not the center attraction of the film, essentially a story about raising children, about family and about issues that all of us confront in our less fantastic universe.
The plot is quite simple: Hana, an extremely optimistic student, eyes a good-looking boy in her class and pursues him, even after she finds out that he is in fact a wolf-like creature. After their marriage and his premature death, the ever-spirited Hana has to raise the couple’s two children, Ame and Yuki, by herself, and she moves with them to an isolated farmer’s community, where she quickly earns the affection of the locals through her personality and hard-working nature. Hana is definitely the true heroine of the story, which is not a common thing- when was the last time you saw a film where the protagonist was a single mother who wasn’t looking for a new husband? Besides, in most fairytales, the story ends with the marriage of the main characters, usually after some adventures in which the female protagonist who waits for her prince has not taken part at all. Hana is a proactive heroine, not one to wait, or to allow herself to be discouraged in any circumstances.
Most of the film is taken by the mother’s efforts to integrate her unusual children in human society, an effort which can probably attract sympathy from anybody who ever had an unusual child (or who used to be an unusual child!), even if, obviously, not a half-wolf one, precisely. Of course, here the dilemma is a catalyst for many cute/funny sequences debating the nature of the children (when they get ill, should they see a vet or a pediatrician?), but the essence of it all is easy to understand and to embrace: we all struggle to find our place in the world, and it’s harder when you’re different. It’s even harder when you’re between worlds, between cultures, or, in this more unlikely case, between species. We always think about what inherited traits we like and what we can do about the ones we dislike, imagine how it must be for the wolf children. Are they more wolf or more human? What things must they sacrifice in order to fit in one of the two worlds? Despite the fantastic-impossible premise, the message of the film is surprisingly universal.
Most of all, I enjoyed the overall feeling of calmness; we are dealing with a small-scale conflict that has nothing to do with saving the planet or any other big thrilling thing. But Hana and her strange children are easy to empathise with. Director Mamoru Hosoda has worked for loud, action-laden series such as Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, but here he seems closer to the mood of his former employees, Studio Ghibli (for whom he almost directed Howl’s Moving Castle). The film is full of lovely images, it’s both sad and funny and I would recommend it to anyone who can get over the initial awkwardness of seeing a woman-wolf loving couple.
The only flaw that pulled me out of the film was the slightly ridiculous design of the wolf-children when they’re in wolf mode: they keep their human hairdos. Oh well, I suppose exaggerated cuteness isn’t something you can avoid when you watch anime.