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

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa)

Before the success of Gunbuster and then Nadia (the profits of which I believe were devoured by NHK anyway) or Neon Genesis, Gainax was nearly buried by the poor (compared to its budget) financial performance of a film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa) 1987

Obviously, if you’re familiar with anime in general or the roots of Gainax specifically, you’ll be aware of this cult classic and it’s extremely high production values.

If you’re not, one glance at the cover and title – and knowing the studio’s other work around the late 1980s – will have you thinking, cool, space battles and action! Well, the film is actually a lot closer to a drama based on the space race of the 1950s. That and the personal journey of a kinda dead-eyed ‘hero’ whose apathy is not only a character flaw but a real chore to watch, as I found out last year when I finally saw Wings.

Does that mean it’s not worth watching? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you’re looking for, of course. If you want a dull, even cruel male lead who eventually gains a spine and some purpose during the course of the film, then yeah this might be worth a look.

I had trouble with his emptiness, his bizarre choice of sexual assault at one point and cruelty towards children but Shiro maybe has a soul, I guess.

The film itself is again, really beautifully animated and on a par or exceeds the work of most other major studios of the day and of course, it holds up today.

There’s also a really impressive level of detail on the settings and establishing an ‘otherworldly yet familiar’ look to the places. The pacing is slower, as befitting a drama, and that’s not a problem, and the few action sequences throughout are definitely exciting, especially the assassination attempt, but overall the film left me feeling somewhat cold.

When I finished Wings of Honnêamise I was glad to have seen it but I doubt I’ll recommend it very often, despite its stunning visuals and attention to detail.  

2 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