Thankfully Asura wasn’t the only movie I saw at this anime movie festival in Leeds, otherwise that would have been a pretty miserable day out. There was the first 2 Berserk CG movies, which I won’t make a post about because I already wrote about the first one and things haven’t changed with the second. Still glimpses of what makes Berserk great under layers of PS2-era CG. There was the Tiger and Bunny movie, which I’ll talk about tomorrow. The final one was the new film by Mamoru Hosoda, the director of Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Digimon Movie: Our War Game and Digimon Movie: Our Summer Wars Game. This time he’s decided to stop remaking his earlier movies and trying instead to live up to his Next Miyazaki label with his latest movie: Wolf Children.
The story starts with a rather plain looking college girl and her romantic adventures with this dashingly attractive young man. It turns out that he’s a wolf-man, but the lady doesn’t care because golly, he really is quite a catch. Besides, wolves are cool, so it could be worse. He could be an uncool animal like a sea-cucumber man. They have kids together but raising them in the big city is a bit of a pain, especially since they keep turning into wolves when they get annoyed. So they move to the countryside and start a new life there. It is one half about the trials and wonders of raising children and providing them with the environment in which they can thrive, and one half about gosh darn isn’t the countryside and nature wonderful. Its closest comparison would be Totoro, what with the family with two kids moving to the countryside away from the smelly city.
The mother in Wolf Children is really quite an extraordinary character in how determined and admirable her attitude towards life is. The trials she goes through in order to raise her children the best she can is the main focus of the movie. The kids do lead a fairly happy-go-lucky life under her, ditching off school to wander around the forest, but it comes under the main theme of providing an environment in which your children can pursue any goal they wish. It all has a very strong focus on family values, and it comes across as all being rather hopeful and inspiring. In fact, maybe a bit too much…
Here is where I reveal that I am a horrible human being, because I found the aggressively maudlin tone overbearing. Particularly the opening 15-20 minutes of the movie with the relationship between the mother and the wolf dude. It laid on the sap way too thick. It reminds of those movies that are made entirely to win Oscars, with their overly sentimental tone. The way these movies try to draw emotion become almost robotic in their predictable nature. Wolf Children doesn’t have a single twist that isn’t even remotely surprising. That obviously doesn’t preclude it from being good, but it is a nice way of demonstrating how much it plays to this same factory-churned heart-tugging attempts.
There are parts to this movie I do genuinely like. The interaction between the two kids when they’re still young is charming as hell, particularly in how they formed opposite personalities in the way siblings do. The older child runs around and lot and is very charismatic, while the younger brother is quiet and withdrawn. It’s rather like myself and my younger sister, where videos of us would be her sitting around reading books patiently while I run around in the background screaming about Sonic the Hedgehog. Wolf Children perfectly captured that boundless energy and curiosity that children have.
But the other parts that I might otherwise have liked are fed through this maudlin machine and flip around to be too sentimental. The struggle the mother has to go through to get a garden working is really overdone, or more specifically the part where it says how wonderful the people of the countryside are. Not a message I’m opposed to by any means, but it comes off as way too overblown emotionally. The final part in the movie with what the younger brother eventually decides suffers from the same problem. I won’t spoil, but this is a really huge part of the movie that marks a massive emotional decision on his part and his mother’s, which they still somehow manage to overstate. I would like the movie to let me experience these emotions myself, not to have it smashing me over the head with a saucepan yelling “ISN’T THIS TRAGIC? LOOK AT HOW EMOTIONAL THIS IS! CRY DAMNIT!”
I wouldn’t say it’s a bad movie. There was never a stage when I wanted to leave the cinema and visit a trendy coffee shop instead. But the way the movie smashed repeatedly about how emotional everything was paradoxically left me feeling even more indifferent towards the film.