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 kids’ storylines individually, as Wolf Children does span a few years but not 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 here and 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, I guess – 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

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko)

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) 2015

Before Makoto Shinkai was dubbed ‘the next Miyazaki’ that (possibly unwelcome) title was given to Mamoru Hosoda. I can’t remember exactly when it was that such claims started but maybe around 2006 when The Girl Who Leapt Through Time first made waves?

Obviously Hasoda wasn’t the first director to be compared in such a way to Miyazaki nor will he be the last but it’s understandable why it happened. Both directors have a real knack for blending the fantastical with very real human characters and both (though obviously not always) stray toward the ‘family-friendly’ spectrum of anime.

For me, they probably have more differences than similarities but I won’t try and delve into that but instead, finally get to the film itself The Boy and the Beast.

I wanted to start with that comparison to establish something of the reception to and tone of Hasoda’s films – but with The Boy and the Beast I think it’s one of the more obvious examples of where he’s further away from Miyazaki than usual. Maybe it’s the shonen feel to the training or master-student storylines here, or maybe it’s just the fact that family is dealt with as more of a ‘site of conflict’ rather than being something somewhat absent, as is often the case with Miyazkai’s more adventure-based films.

Here’s a tiny idea of the plot:

Young runaway Kyuta stumbles into a fantasy world where he is raised by a cantankerous bear-man, Kumatetsu – and is soon forced to struggle for control of both his emotions and abilities, as he is drawn into the politics of succession in the Beast Kingdom.

The story proceeds much in the classic ‘coming of age’ manner but with a couple of welcome surprises and as to be expected with a great director and a giant budget, some wonderful animation and great integration of CGI. I especially remember really enjoying the whale in Shibuya scene actually, that and the travel montage or the way the seasons are depicted in the film.

Although, on the note of the travel montage I remember being kinda disappointed when Kyuta and Kumatestsu set out, as I was expecting a new adventure to start – but it was heavily compressed and instead, the film switched back to the focus on the politics of the fantasy world and more importantly, the strained master-student, father-son relationship between the two lead characters.

And it’s obviously a struggle for both of them so that’s where a lot of the film’s comedic moments (and heart) comes from, and so if you’re familiar with Hasoda you’ll know that the dramatic elements are given as much weight as action or fantasy.

Looking back on the review, I’ve probably spent a bit too much time on comparisons, on genre and general statements… but I actually want to quickly mention that so far, The Boy and the Beast is my least favourite of the Mamoru Hosoda films I’ve seen.

For me, it didn’t match the heights of Summer Wars or tension in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, nor the emotional rollercoaster that was Wolf Children. I’ve not been able to put my finger on quite how or why I didn’t enjoy it as much – but having said that it’s really a question of degrees: I really liked it, as opposed to, I loved it.

4 Stars