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Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki - Anime Film Review
From the Mind of Mamoru Hosoda
Mamoru Hosoda has been on a roll lately. He really broke out onto the scene in 2006, with the instant classic, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. He followed it up in 2009 with the well-received Summer Wars. His latest film, Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki sends a clear message: Hosoda is a highly talented director capable of making all kinds of different movies. Because while Ame and Yuki lacks the ostensible plot-driven narrative that powered his previous two films, what it doesn't lack is spirit. Ame and Yuki is probably the cutest film since Ponyo, and is probably the best sketch of Japanese life portrayed on screen since Whisper of the Heart -- if you're willing to overlook that a few of the characters are werewolves.
The Story of a Young Family
When Ame and Yuki begins, it immediately sets forth in laying out all of the pieces for what one might perceive as a romance movie. Narrated by titular wolf-girl, Yuki, the opening act of the film portrays the sweet (if cliché) romance between a woman and a man with a secret. As you've likely deduced from the movie's title, the secret is that this man is part-wolf. Despite that, the young couple seems very happy to be together; and except for being subject to a rather bizarre implication of the two having sex while Wolfy is still in his lupine form, as a viewer, I was happy for them. Of course, immediately after completing this opening prologue, Hana's lover dies, leaving her with two infant children. And that's where the "romance" ends and the real story begins.
At this point in the movie, Hana, and her two children, Ame and Yuki, live in the big city. There, Hana faces all of the normal tasks of being a young, single mother. She struggles to support the children and keep them safe, while balancing a precarious lack of sleep. She also faces all of the abnormal tasks of being a young mother to children that are part-wolf: their constant chewing of furniture, and howling at the moon. There is also the ever-present fear that one of the children might transform in public. At this point in the movie, however, it's enjoyable to just sit back and enjoy the animation. If you've read any of my anime reviews you'll know I pay a lot of attention to facial expressions and the subtleties in character animation; but I don't think I have ever seen a movie that does it quite as adorably as Wolf Children. I never would have imagined that a little girl chewing on a table leg could be so heart warming.
Of course, as you might imagine, being the mother of such feral children makes life rather complicated for poor Hana. In one early example that is both humorous and touching, Yuki gets into some cleaning products and swallows something that she shouldn't. She becomes sick, and Hana immediately swipes her into her arms, and runs for the pediatric hospital -- which just so happens to be located directly across the street from the veterinary hospital. Unsure of which building to enter, she instead uses a payphone to hotline instead. Of course, Yuki is okay, and as viewers, we are able to laugh at the whole situation, while also considering a real problem faced by Hana.
Eventually, plagued by various concerns, Hana decides to move to the countryside with Ame and Yuki. Thus begins the next act, and the larger portion of the movie.
The Struggles Growing Up
The country side is portrayed beautifully in this film, really giving all of the artists involved a chance to flex their creative muscles. Whether it's the traditionally-styled Japanese house that the family lives in, the school, the farmland and fields surrounding them, or the wildlife of the mountain, each still of Ame and Yuki is beautiful enough to be hanging in a museum; and it's the perfect backdrop for the children to grow up on in this movie.
And as far as the children growing up goes, it is at this point that their personalities begin to develop more fully. Slowly, as Yuki and Ame begin to grow in ways that differentiate them from one another, a key theme of the movie is revealed. Every day, Yuki excitedly hurries off to school where she makes a strong effort to fit in with the other students. This is not to say she doesn't have her share of difficulties owing to her unique physiology, but the effort can mostly be labeled a success. Over the course of the film, we begin to see her transform into a young woman. She's still very young of course, but we begin to see strong hints of adolescence in her, especially in regards to a boy that she meets.
At first this character growth in Yuki seems to be in stark contrast with a lack of growth in her brother, Ame. Ame makes a habit out of not going to school, and for a time he displays many symptoms of depression. However, as he starts to spend more and more of his time in the mountains, viewers will begin to notice character growth in Yuki as well. By the end of the movie, there's a lot that will be left open to the viewer's own interpretation, especially in regards to Yuki's choices. Depending on one's own perspective, the ending of the movie can be construed as bittersweet, happy, sad, or anywhere in between. Whichever you decide, there's undeniably a lot served up as food for thought in this film.
Of Potatoes and Leek
I've mentioned how beautiful Ame and Yuki looks, and I've detailed the overall plot of the film. I've also alluded to the film's powerful and illustrative representation of the traditional Japanese lifestyle. For clarification: I thought Wolf Children did this as well as any other movie I've ever seen, and I appreciated that, about it. However, I think there's also something to be said for good things coming in moderation. Upon moving to the countryside, Hana relocates to a dilapidated, broken down old house. There she not only fixes up the house, but tills the land so that she can grow crops. I really liked the attention to detail in the animation of all this, but I felt like it just stretched on-and-on. There was perhaps a fifteen minute stretch of time during which there was no character or plot development. By that point, I began to feel that the sketch of Japanese life had been completed. Not only that, I felt that the sketch had been properly drawn, shaded, had sealant applied to it, and had been framed. It was just really excessive, and that's unfortunate, because this wasted time was the only real flaw I found with the movie. It's not to say that I wish these scenes had been removed. I just wish they were somewhat shorter.
Despite the inexplicable focus on growing potatoes for a year and a half in the middle of the movie, I think Wolf Children was a great film, and one of the best animations of 2012. It's absolutely worth seeing. In fact, by this point, I think Mamoru Hosoda has proven himself to be so good of a director, that I will take the time to view any movie that he creates. I think he has the potential to become one of the industry's leading directors. And while I postulated the same thing after watching Summer Wars, I am really beginning to believe it.
Final Rating: 8.00 out of 10.0
At the time of this review being written, Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki has not been released in the English language, on either DVD or Blu-ray. The Japanese version is available for import on Amazon.com, and to my understanding it contains Chinese subtitles. This may be useful information to some of you.