Wolf Children (Japan, 2012, 117 mins) - a VIFF review.
I’ll admit I was apprehensive about seeing another story about a young woman falling in love with a beast. I expected the usual gender tropes, the underlying message that men are always the aggressive, animalistic creatures and women are the nurturing, submissive beings who must learn to love and accept the ‘beast’ or ‘wolf’ in their man. However, this is not the main plot in Mamoru Hosada’s Wolf Children (2012). Sure, it is there to some degree, and a young woman falls in love with a man who is half a wolf, but the majority of the movie is about that woman’s life after the wolfman is gone. It is the story of a single mother, Hana, struggling to raise her two high-maintenance children, who just so happen to be part pup.
The wolfman, Ookami, is no typical werewolf either. Hana first meets him in one of her classes at the University of Tokyo, and he is vastly different from the other students. He is quiet, soulful, artsy, and introverted. Hana must pursue him fiercely to start their relationship. When he finally reveals to her his deep, dark secret, Hana accepts him without question. But, when they decide to have a family together, Hana is forced into secrecy too. They must deliver their babies at home, without a midwife, in case their children inherit some of Ookami’s atypical whiskers or canines.
Not long after their second child is born, Ookami is killed while out hunting. Hana is left to raise the wolf-children on her own. Daughter Yuki, and little brother Ame show characteristics of both their mother and their father, and of both human and wolf. When they get angry or excited their fuzzy little ears pop out and their tails sprout from their behinds and start flapping wildly. They make the most adorable animated puppy-children you will ever see, but they are quite the handful for their human mother. They race around and rip and chew up everything, and howl at the moon.
Wolf Children is set in this magical, fantastical animated world, but it is grounded to reality. Throughout the film, Hana must deal with the very real barriers that single parents must face in terms of finances, judgment, scrutiny, endless nights, and kids that just won’t stop crying, barking, and wanting. The film doesn’t paint a picture of idyllic, unattainable parenting or pet ownership as the case may be, but rather reveals much of the unpleasantness, and difficulties that come with pregnancy and child (or puppy) rearing. It portrays morning sickness, sick children, vomiting, breast-feeding, noise complaints, eviction notices, nosy neighbours, child services policing, and enforcing Hana’s parenting decisions.
Of course, some of the barriers Hana faces are unique to her situation. Raising children that are half human half wolf comes with a whole new set of challenges that prove to be quite comedic and also very touching. Although the plot drags on a little through the middle, like little feet trudging through deep deep snow, the story raps up nicely. It is a visually stunning and enchanting anime about an unconventional family who, against all odds, make it work.
Wolf Children plays again at The Rio (19+) on Oct. 11 (6:oo pm)