Wolf Children
"This as an enchanting film and perfect for family viewing."

The Western werewolf movie has long been a staple of the horror genre. Ugly transformations, fearsome howling, ferocious killing, inevitable doom. In this Japanese approach to the subject, there's no trace of any of that. Well, maybe a little bit of howling. But it's cute.

I did say 'cute'.

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Diligent, sweet-natured Hana, raised by her now-deceased father to get through life's difficulties by smiling, meets a werewolf at university and falls in love. He is, he tells her, the last of his kind. He enjoys a simple domestic life, working as a removal man, coming home to snuggles and tofu kebabs. But his wild side still expresses itself in nocturnal hunting trips, caching pheasant on the mountain, and one night such a venture leads to his death. Distraught and with no-one to turn to, Hana retreats into their apartment. To make things still harder, he has left her with two small werewolf children to raise by herself.

Essentially a film about how tough it is to be a single mother facing terrible potential prejudice, Wolf Children is a lot less grim than that might sound. The exhausting business of caring and providing for her willful offspring is balanced, for Hana, by the enormous joy she finds in their company, and that joy is shared by the audience (the more so by those who've owned puppies). Running wild in the park at night, chewing the furniture and getting into all kinds of scrapes, the children are entertaining and, despite the fantasy element, realistic. Watching them may help younger viewers appreciate what their own parents have had to put up with. There are lots of laughs in store for viewers of all ages.

Taking on cultural issues around racism and disability, as well as exploring Hana's sense of being under seige from the very organisations set up to help struggling parents, the film has strong undercurrents of social realism which shift and evolve as the story goes on and the children grow older. Will they ultimately choose to live as humans or as wolves? How will a woman who has sacrificed so much to keep them safe cope with them inevitably growing apart from her?

There's little here that's really new on the animation front, but the film is really pretty. A couple of chases through fog and through trees provide visceral thrills that complement the physicality of the young werewolves. The rural landscapes have a simple beauty that recalls Totoro, allowing for moments of wonder and delight despite the constant threat hanging over the family. Though a little slow in places, this as an enchanting film and perfect for family viewing.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2013
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After falling in love with a werewolf she meets at university, a young woman is left alone to raise two half-wolf children who must be hidden from prying eyes.
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Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera

Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Huru Kuroki

Year: 2012

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: Japan

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My Neighbour Totoro