Mamoru Hosoda’s “Wolf Children” an Animated Look at Heritage and Identity

The film Wolf Children had its US continental premiere at the New York International Children’s Film Festival on March 9 with a Q&A with director Mamoru Hosoda, and the next screening is on the festival’s last day, March 24.

"Wolf Children", Mamoru Hosoda, Japanese anime, anime, NYC, NYICFF, film festivals

"Wolf Children," Mamoru Hosoda

The third feature from Hosoda, whose Summer Wars (NYICFF 2010) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (NYICFF 2007) established him as one of the world’s top creative forces in animation, Wolf Children follows the story of Hana, a college student who stalks a mysterious man from one of her classes.

As their romance develops, he reveals that he is part wolf. Undeterred by this revelation, Hana accepts her new love’s odd heritage and bears him two children, a daughter named Yuki (Snow) and a son named Ame (rain). The children have a human appearance, but like their father, they transform into wolves with a shake of their heads when excited or upset. The children are suddenly and unexpectedly left without a father, and Hana is forced to deal with their animal-like tendencies on her own.

Although the wolf children are cute, even when they’re being more destructive than regular human children, Hana finds it increasingly difficult to control their aggressive behavior while living in a small apartment in the city, especially after Yuki snarls at a dog in the park and she and her little brother howl at the moon. Hana leaves the city behind, buying a fixer-upper in the mountains and working tirelessly to repair it. She tackles the backbreaking job of learning to farm in order to allow her children to run free as wolves and humans.

As hard as Hana tries, taking care of her half-wolf, half-human children is physically exhausting. Despite her even-handed ways, Hana is almost powerless against Yuki and Ame when their animal sides become too dominant.

The children grow up and attend school, assimilating into society. Yuki makes friends with her classmates, but sometimes scares them with her tomboyish disposition. At times she lets her aggressive side get the best of her, but she recognizes that she is “human.” Ame, who originally questioned why a wolf is always bad, is quiet, timid, and often bullied in school. He eventually finds he needs a different kind of teacher and learns to embrace the unique gift from his father.

Wolf Children runs almost two hours long, and it feels like it. Hosoda is almost too detailed in his storytelling. Although some of the scenes dragged on a bit longer than they should have, overall the story offers an excellent study in identity and finding one’s purpose.

Animation, Mamoru Hosoda, 2012, 117 min
In Japanese with English subtitles
Recommended ages 9 to adult

Directors Guild of America – 110 W. 57th Street (at 6th Avenue)
Sunday, March 24 at 4:30 p.m.