I can’t help but to love Wolf Children. It’s partly a Ghibli-esque story about a young woman overcoming the challenges set on her by a demanding life. But it’s also a very un-Ghibli film about a single mother and the bittersweet experiences she has raising two children alone. The 117-minute run time seemed to cruise by as I got utterly wrapped up in the characters and their daily lives.
PG-rated wholesome family drama films are about as far as it gets from my usual tastes, but Wolf Children was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. That name demands instant respect from me, so I went ahead and bought the Blu-ray without looking at any plot summaries or promo material. If there’s one thing you can bet on, it’s a Mamoru Hosoda film.
Wolf Children starts by introducing you to Hana, a university student who meets and eventually falls in love with a wolf who can shapeshift into a human. The father dies suddenly, leaving Hana with two unusual children who can also turn into wolves. The film focuses on Hana’s struggles as a mother, and later on her children Ame and Yuki’s experiences trying to find their way in life.
The wonderful thing about Mamoru Hosoda is how he makes his films so relatable. Being a male in my late twenties, there are dimensions to motherhood and parenthood that I didn’t think I could possibly comprehend. And yet Wolf Children has given me a piece of that experience: the seemingly overwhelming responsibility, the panic from seeing your child in harm’s way, the simple joy of watching them play, and how you never really stop seeing the kids as kids.
Beyond that, the film made me want to understand parenthood. Which isn’t to say it made me want to be a parent, but rather made me want to understand Hana’s life and character. The film didn’t need an antagonistic agent to get me to root for her. The threat of apocalypse in that world is as far away as it is in in the real world. Hana doesn’t fight off aliens, fantastical creatures, corrupt cops, or any other type of villain. She just existed as pretty normal a person, but it was enough to pull me into the story.
Equally important to the movie are Ame and Yuki, Hana’s son and daughter respectively. Though they are the main catalysts for showing us Hana’s character, I also found them to be very well-developed characters in their own right. Ame’s and Yuki’s stories are about identity and self-determination – to understand their natures as humans and wolves, and to figure out where on that spectrum they want to fit in. Hosoda adds a wrinkle to these themes by also exploring the necessity of leaving the nest. It’s heartbreaking because you identify with Hana so it hurts to see the family growing apart. The other thing is, it kind of highlights the relatively thankless task of being a mother. Again, these are things I never thought I could relate to, but after watching this movie, it feels like I’ve lived this life.
Like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Hosoda approaches his subjects through the lens of an adult. Although Wolf Children is family-friendly, I don’t think it’s geared toward kids. The adventure and discovery for me were mostly internal, coming from watching Hana mature alongside her kids. I think this is why Hosoda’s works are so relatable. They’re not really about extraordinary things. They’re about highlighting the value of what we see and experience every day.
I also appreciated the earnestness of Wolf Children. It’s a work of art that doesn’t really identify itself as such. There’s no pretentiousness, irony, or self-awareness. I just love that Hosoda focused on telling a story and building the characters. He keeps his sense of fun, a sense of joy that makes for levity without becoming superficiality. You wouldn’t see this movie and think it was a case of art being for artists – it’s very much like the girl who’s pretty without trying to be.