A few days ago, I was casually scrolling through a dear friend’s Facebook page looking for photos of cats because I can’t find those anywhere else on the internet, and I found a thread wherein she recommended this movie to someone else. The title,「おおかみこどもの雨と雪」or “Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki,” immediately rang some bells and I remembered a poster I saw nearly everywhere months ago:
The first time I saw the poster, I dismissed the movie because of two gut impulse things: the kids have ears and tails, and I couldn’t see a plot depicted anywhere, just grass and a run-of-the-mill pretty lady holding two kids with ears and tails.
Had I actually looked closer and read the bottom of the poster that clearly stated that the director of this movie directed “Summer Wars,” I would have seen it in theaters four times and maybe a fifth just for a basking-in-the-glow-of-genius bonus. “Summer Wars” was released in 2009 and remains one of my all-time favorite movies and succeeds to this day in making me bawl and claw at the walls every time I watch it.
“Wolf Children” is no less powerful. In fact, I think it reaches an even deeper resonance purely because it follows longer character arcs and presents sharper realities. Aaand I almost missed out on it because I judged a movie by its poster.
Slaps on both wrists.
Let’s start with the fun stuff. Also, from this point on, I’m going into spoiler-rich territory, so thou hast been warned.
Shapeshifting wolf falls in love with a human, human gives birth to wolf babies, shapeshifting wolf dad dies because angst, and human mother must raise wolf babies alone.
Hana is our story’s human. She starts us off in college, where she sees Mysterious Brooding Man and, naturally, falls in love with him. To the movie’s credit, though, their love story is at least believable and at best beautiful. At one point, as Shapeshifting Wolfman (he’s never given a name) and Hana are walking together, Hana tells him why she was named Hana (“Flower”).
She explains that just after she was born, the first thing her father saw was a patch of flowers. He named her Hana in the hope that she would always bring joy and color to the world as they do. When he died, Hana smiled through his funeral because she thought that’s what he would have wanted. Her relatives, doubtlessly expecting the daughter of the deceased to have more decorum and mourning-type behavior, thought she’d acted poorly. As Hana tells the story to Shapeshifting Wolfman, she says sheepishly, “Maybe I was wrong after all,” and he simply says, “No, you weren’t,” and she beams up at him.
At first, I thought of Hana as a relentless optimist, but as I’ve thought about the movie more, I’ve changed my mind. She isn’t smiling because she believes the future will be brighter, she’s smiling in order to make the future brighter. That’s a very different character, I think. The first is more like Spongebob (who is also awesome).
What astounded me about Hana in this movie is that she rarely lost her temper, and she was in a lot of situations where which she could have easily and understandably lost her temper. She gives birth to two kids who can shapeshift into wolves and loses her husband not long afterward, pushing her into a life of single parenthood and then isolation to protect her children’s secret. She deals with the suspicion of child protection services who have no records of the kids’ immunizations (because where to take wolf kids? Doctor or vet?), suspicious passersby, irate neighbors woken up in the middle of the night by her son’s constant crying and both children’s playful wolf howling – all with herculean patience and, at times, an apologetic smile.
In my mind, she’s the reigning champion of Fake It Til You Make It.
Next, we have Yuki. Yuki was my favorite character from pretty much her infancy to the age of about ten. For the first seven years of her life or so, she’s spunky and loud and tomboyish. She wrestles snakes and intimidates boars and hunts mercilessly in her wolf form. Then, after a few years of elementary school (as a human, fiercely guarding her Secret Identity), her wild and excitable personality dims into a polite, quiet shadow of who she was.
And then there’s Ame. I love Ame fiercely, and he became my favorite character immediately after Yuki’s personality sat down and lowered its voice.
As kids, Yuki and Ame are polar opposites. When they arrive in the countryside with Hana to live a quiet life detached from the judgment and oppression of city life, Yuki bursts out of these newly-purchased dilapidated house and runs around laughing manically and loves every single thing she sees. Ame, on the other hand, meekly peers out of the house and yelps when he sees a lizard, running headlong into his sister’s arms for a comforting hug.
So, just as Yuki makes herself calmer and more feminine to better fit in as a human, Ame finds his strength in his wolf heritage. He becomes the student of an old fox who rules over the mountains, and the scene where he and his teacher sprint through the woods, carried by a brilliantly uplifting musical score – I thought only Ghibli movies could make me feel that much love for nature.
And that’s where I’ll end things tonight! I’m enjoying talking about this movie, so I’ll continue tomorrow with the plot and stuff of that nature.
Good night, and remember: お土産三つ、タコ三つ！