I’m realizing more and more how many Japanese animated movies I’ve been missing out on. We’ve discussed the lack of Asian films making it into English cinemas. Even when they do get a small moment in our theatres, advertising is usually as sparse as the showtimes.
So, how do we find films that aren’t shoved into our line of sight every twelve seconds on Facebook? You have to go looking for them? Foreign film hunting?
How to Raise Wolves
The film I’m highlighting for today is actually one that I got interested in thanks to an anime music video (how appropriate considering yesterday’s topic!). Titled Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, or Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, it saw a limited release in England under the shortened title, Wolf Children.
The story begins with Hana, a student at a university in Tokyo who notices a young man attending her class who is fervently writing notes throughout the lecture. She notices he has no books and does not hand in an attendance slip. This piques her interest high enough to make her approach him, offering to share her books.
This is the beginning of their relationship. They develop a routine: she gets off working, finding him waiting for her at a nearby cafe. They share a love of books and an image of a beautiful future together. The Wolfman (unnamed in the film) admits that he’s always wanted a place to come home to, and Hana replies that she would happily welcome him home.
This is when he realizes he has to tell her the truth and reveals to her that he is, in fact, not entirely human. He is the last of his kind, once thought extinct 100 years ago–the Japanese Werewolf. It’s not like the tales of a full moon and uncontrollable rage, but rather an ability to shift between both human and wolf. When asked if she’s afraid, Hana says that she’s not, because it’s him. They move in together and start a life with one another.
Hana becomes pregnant with their first child, must to her lover’s excitement. They begin to build a family life, wishing love and strength upon their new daughter, Yuki, who was named after the snow falling on the night of her birth. Soon after, Hana finds herself pregnant with their second child, and it seems that their life couldn’t be any happier. The Wolfman has the home he’s always wanted, full of people to welcome him when he returns.
However, soon after the birth of their second child, a boy named Ame (“rain”, due to his birth being on a rainy night), the Wolfman all but disappears. He leaves a last set of groceries and his wallet at the door one night, and Hana rushes out to find him. In her search, she discovers his deceased wolf form in a canal. Hana has been left to raise their two children alone.
The film follows her proceeding journey as a single mother and the struggles that come with not only raising two kids on her own, but two half-wolf kids. She finds that she cannot adequately protect the truth of her children’s origin in the city, and decides to move out to the country where they can choose to be human or wolf on their own accord.
Although the nature of the film seems entirely supernatural at first, it really is more of a coming-of-age drama. While the plot largely centers around the effects a half-wolf lineage has on her family, Hana’s tale is really any mother’s tale–the struggle of allowing her children to choose their own paths.
Yuki and Ame are polar opposites as children. While Ame is at first a timid and scared child, Yuki is fearless and embracing of her wolf side. Their move to the countryside allows both of them to find place in their mixed identities and find out who they want to be–wolf or human. However, this is not the focus of the film. In reality, Hana’s children are the side characters. It is Hana’s story that is being told–her progression as she is tested and how she meets those challenges as a mother.
Wolf Children is a slower paced film, but this builds a natural tension before the story comes to its climax at the end of the film. While we do see the key moments in each child’s life that leads them to choose what paths they will take, again, those stories are tools to Hana’s character growth. In fact, the better part of the film (about three-fourths of it) is solely focused on the small family’s development together before the kids enter school.
Maybe it’s because I’m a mom, but even though I’m normally more intrigued by the youthful tales, I appreciated Hana’s story. To lose the man you love, and then watching your children grow-up and fork their paths away from you–the desperate feelings that must come from that, I can’t even imagine.
I’ll admit the title misleads a bit, considering their names are in the title. But, the point to which the story is about them is their effect on Hana’s life. Her children are, quite literally, all she has left when the Wolfman dies–left of her lover, especially. She wants to protect that.
As she moves to the country, her plan is to isolate herself and her kids, but unwittingly she joins a community that embraces her tenacity to fight for the sake of her family. I especially loved the old guy that looked like Clint Eastwood.
Still, what we do see of the kid’s lives, I loved. While I’ve read some reviews that feel their stories are rushed, I felt the opposite. Sure, I was left wanting to know more or have some sort of afterword, but I felt that their development was quite clear. Yuki’s choices are based very clearly around her character, and watching as she enters school and longs to belong and be a part of that world makes sense to me.
Ame’s experience was also cut with his character. Shy, withdrawn–he couldn’t find a place at school. For him, his wolf side allowed him a place to belong. As siblings, they make clear decisions that are logical based on their personalities. Again, yes, I wish I could’ve watched more, but I don’t think it was more development that I wanted to see, it was just, the whole, “Well, what happens after that?!”
Overall, Wolf Children is a different kind of film. It’s beautifully animated, has an excellent soundtrack, and the characters are strong, down to the smallest side parts. I think that the fact that I want to know more shows that I enjoyed the film. I also appreciate that, in the end, this story is about how a mother finds her place in the world when that role is taken from her. When you are no longer a wife or mother, what do you become? How do you let go? Where do you move forward to?
For Hana, her entire life were these children. Raising kids ends so quickly that it almost feels like a fairy tale, and Wolf Children simply adds some real fairy-like tales to that idea.
To give you a taste of the film, here’s the AMV that got me interested in finding it. Watching it again, I realize it has some spoilers, but it didn’t ruin the film for me so I say, if you’re interested, go for it and watch it. Because, dang, it’s a good music video!
What’s the craziest way you’ve found and loved a foreign film?