Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki)

Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki) 2012

Another blockbuster from Mamoru Hosoda, though it’s far deeper into tear-jerker territory than his previous film, Summer Wars.

But soon after that movie’s success Hosoda left Madhouse to create Studio Chizu, and Wolf Children was the first feature made by his new studio.

My anticipation was pretty high for this film in the lead up (much like it had been with Summer Wars). And while it’s just as beautiful (and just as fraught with drama) it’s not an action film – though there’s more than enough tension mixed in with the romance and magic. The film also has a slice of life feel at times – all great things!

As is my way with these write-ups, I try not to offer too much in the way of plot but in its simplest form – this is the story of a single mother fighting to keep her family together.

Hana is a good lead, determined, very human. And she faces some pretty hard times, not in the least of which being that her children are shape-shifters. (And of course, quite adorable too). Other times it is prejudice that she has to deal with or the terror of the natural world, but obviously her own doubts too.

The story is wide enough to focus on both her and the storylines of her kids individually, as Wolf Children does span a few years.

For me, it wasn’t in such a way that you feel like ‘I missed something here’ and so by the end it does feel a little like a saga. Regular Hosoda collaborator Satoko Okudera wrote the screenplay and for me I think that’s a big part of why the film works too.

I actually hadn’t realised when I first saw it that the character design was by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, though it will feel far closer to his work on The Girl who Leapt Through Time as opposed to Neon Genesis.

But that’s more of a side note, really – so I’ll wrap it up now and just say that if you’ve missed this drama I think it’s definitely worth watching.

4 Stars

Summer Wars (Samā Wōzu)

Summer Wars (Samā Wōzu) 2009

One of my favourite things about this film (which is suddenly ten years old!) is that it manages to tell a really compelling family drama at the same time as its external ‘plot-based’ action storyline.

Of course, the two do intersect but it’s always impressive to me that Hosoda found time in the film to charactarise a good portion of such a massive cast. And maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, considering the budget and talent behind it – I remember some of the hype leading up to its release actually.

No doubt that after the success of The Girl who Leapt through Time Madhouse was happy to give Hosoda and writer Satoko Okudera a fair bit of leeway 🙂

There’s a lot going on with our team of ordinary heroes (math-nerd!) trying to take out a rogue AI that wreaks havoc in the real world via the internet, including redemption arcs, first love, jealousy, death, defiance and comedy – in a way, it’s very much a family movie, since it never stretches beyond the bounds of the PG rating, as much as it’s a science-fiction film. And like most big budget anime films, the art is beautiful and vivid – especially setting of the Jinnouchi estate itself.

Although, part of the fun upon watching Summer Wars after its release can be seeing how accurate some of the predictions from the writing team were about the near-future – though what I tend to think of most when I put the film on now, is the way that while action and fighting feature in the final battle, part of that struggle is actually played out via a game of Hanafuda, which enabled the film to not only channel Yu-Gi-Oh etc but also to tie it in with the traditional aspects of the Jinnouchi family.

As with almost all Mamoru Hosoda films, there’s a couple of parts where you might tear up and a few good laughs as well, great pacing and plenty of surprises too.

5 Stars

Steamboy (Suchīmubōi)

Katsuhiro Otomo’s next film after the monster that was Akira took ten years to produce and the staggering care and attention to detail clear in the Victorian-era settings and its marvellous machines is undeniable (along with a lot of the action sequences) but the film is not so beloved as Akira.

Steamboy (Suchīmubōi)
2004

Obviously, different genres, different times – but I also think that there’s something missing from the storytelling in Steamboy and I wasn’t able to put my finger on it until all these years later.

In a way, the film really whips main character Ray from one calamity to another at a brisk pace.

It might sound like I’m claiming that there’s no time to catch your breath at all, and that’s not my intent, but what I think I wanted as a viewer was more time for reflection from Ray. On both his situation, and in terms of his confusion in dealing with the people surrounding him.

I found myself seeking that time for character development because Steamboy explores inter-generational conflict (in an action film, which feels somewhat rare) – and I was thrilled to see that.

All the way through, poor Ray is torn between trusting his grandfather and his father – both mechanical geniuses, and both seeming to have noble goals. Of course, there the audience faces similar doubts, but for such an important conflict, I wanted more of it on the screen.

Where I wanted more from that aspect, the film gave me a lot to enjoy when it came to the visuals and the animation itself. Even with a reasonably muted palette, the detail on the setting and machines was beautiful, and the large scale of the inventions are just as striking.

Steamboy really does feel like a triumph, visually and I don’t think I can do it justice in the review of course, since the stills can only tell so much.

But if you like classic steampunk (or have always wondered about Katsuhiro’s other major works) and haven’t seen this one yet, I think it’s worth finding for sure.

4 Stars