Wolf Children (2012)

Mamoru Hosoda ♦ 117 mins ♦ Anime ♦ Japan

9 8 10 11 10 1
look pace energy feels depth humor

After the successes of 時をかける少女 (Toki o Kakeru Shōjo) or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and サマーウォーズ (Summer Wars) back in 2006 and 2009 respectively, widely praised anime director 細田 守 (Mamoru Hosoda) came back in 2012 with おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki) or literally Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, an award-winning feature about the most universal and unconditional love of all: the one a mother has for her children.

Of course, the plot in its most basic would be a bit of a yawner, especially if it’s as straightforward as most of our realities. That’s why Hosoda-san and team spiced it up Twilight style and threw in werewolves in the mix.

Ok, that wasn’t fair.

This aspect of the story, which, on the surface, seems borrowed/heavily drawn from the European concept of lycanthropy, actually deals with a creature from Japanese folklore. Yes, not everything is from Europe or the US or white people.

The wolf in question here is actually an Okami or simply, the wolf spirit. “Spirit” used this way though isn’t like how Westerners would understand it. I won’t even try to explain why. Just go read up on it, starting with this link. These bits of trivia would lessen the disconnect a gaijin might feel while watching this one.

Having properly explained that, let’s move on to the film itself. I found this one a weird mix of warmth and disappointment. Warmth, naturally, because of the story. I’m more of a sentimentalist than a man’s man (I only got to watch The Expendables because it was the only thing on in one isolated place I went to with my wife. That’s her explanation for watching it too, BTW) and movies like these always, always have a special place in my heart, regardless of how cliché or sappy they turn out to be. But the saddest impressions I had with Wolf Children – impressions which would probably last longest and would always make me feel bad for having them – were the nagging feelings of discontentment and disappointment.

I feel like such a jerk for saying this, not only because Hosoda-san is a great director AND animator, but also, and more so, because Wolf Children is a great piece of work. But I do have a reason for feeling this way.

As many of my friends know, I am a Japanophile. From Studio Ghibli and Morning Musume to Sazan and Downtown, I have known and loved a great many people and things from the land of the rising sun. Hosoda-san, of course, is no exception. While I haven’t had the pleasure of watching all of his works, I have seen the movies he’s most famous for: those two I mentioned above. While all of them, this one included, are awesome anime features in their own rights, I am left with the feeling that Hosoda-san has already plateaued.

Sure, this latest one does have Miyazaki-like appeal, but I think that’s mostly because of the story’s setting. That whole moving in and planting sequence was like something out of the Ghibli bag of tricks. Let the whole process play out on the screen and let the audience’s capacity for empathy do the magic.

Sure, Wolf Children also has the meticulous attention to details which is Shinkai-san’s signature, and with the Japanese countryside as the backdrop, it sure makes for a great canvas for artists to go crazy on. It’s like Garden of Words, with more nature and less existentialism.

But that’s exactly the problem for me. It has too much Miyazaki and Shinkai in it that it felt like there was only a tiny bit of tabula rasa left for Hosoda to leave his mark on. Was the fusion of these signature approaches of other anime creators a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that Hosoda-san had none?

Of all of his past works, only the stories of the two I mentioned here were by him, and it’s always a collaboration with screenwriter Satoko Okudera. See, unlike dreamweaving giants Hayao Miyazaki and the late Satoshi Kon, who both made up great stories out of thin air (with Kon also being a freakishly excellent storyboard/editing genius), Hosoda seems at a loss when trying to come up with original stuff.

One can see this lack of creative juices when one tries to catch all the references Hosoda makes to fill up the plot and the frames: Summer Wars, for example, has Love Machine for the baddie virus name, referring not just to Momusu’s hit single but also to the infamous Filipino Love Letter worm that infected 45 million computers back in 2000. For its local culture reference, it had Hanafuda, a traditional card game as the overly cheesy and anti-climactic resolution. For a salute to the Japanese contribution to space exploration, Hosoda had a hacked and plummeting Hayabusa-like satellite as the movie’s impending doom element, giving the last few minutes a strained sense of urgency and, finally, its OZ online environment’s look and feel seems inspired by Superflat, an art movement founded by Takashi Murakami.

So, yeah. It might very well be that Hosoda-san isn’t as creative or out of the box as most anime big names were or still are. Doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bad though. His films are good. Formulaic and derivative, sure, but still as good as anime movies go. And unlike the great Kon who’s already dead or Hayao who already retired, Hosoda still got it in him to make a whole lot more movies in the future. There’s even another one he’ll be releasing come 2015. It’s still anybody’s guess how good he’ll get before he’ll bow out. I, for one, just don’t see it happening yet. Here’s to being proven wrong then.

Full Credits

Director: Mamoru Hosoda | Producer: Yuichiro Saito Takuya Ito Takashi Watanabe | Writer: Mamoru Hosoda Satoko Okudera | Cast: Aoi Miyazaki Takao Osawa Haru Kuroki Yukito Nishii | Music: Masakatsu Takagi | Editing: Shigeru Nishiyama | Casting: Satoshi Masuda | Art Direction: Hiroshi Ohno | Costume Design: Daisuke Iga | Sound: Shinichi Tanaka Yasuyuki Konno Yoshio Obara | VFX: Ryo Horibe | Production: Studio Chizu Mad House | Distribution: Toho |Year: 2012 | Length: 117′ | Genre: Anime Fantasy Family | Spoken Language: Japanese | Subtitles: English | Country: Japan

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