Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki) is beautiful movie by director Hosoda Mamoru, the director behind The Girl Who Leapt Back Through Time and Summer Wars, which are two other films that are worth watching. This movie is worth watching as well.
I am going to post spoilers about the movie from here on out, it’s just impossible for me to discuss it properly without going into spoilers right from the beginning. But long story short – movie is definitely worth watching.
The movie deals with nature a whole lot. The movie begins as the story of Hana, a young college student who meets a boy whom she discovers is a werewolf, they become a couple, have two kids, and then he dies. From then on out the story becomes Hana raising the children, and then the children’s lives, Hana’s life, and how they affect one another. The children are werewolves too. They don’t really go hulking man-wolf smash mode, but they can choose to be either in human form or in male form, for the most part.
The movie really does revolve about the relationship of its characters with nature; after being uanble to live in the city with the children who can’t control the shape they’re in, the costs, and other hardships, Hana takes the children to an abandoned house in a small rural town next to a mountain, and creates that as her home. Hana “Returns to nature” – she grows her own vegetables, she lives next to a mountain occupied by wildlife, she has to ride her bicycles for 30 minutes before encountering her neighbours, and other classic markings of such an act (it’s also the town where her husband the werewolf had been raised). Towards the end of the film she also joins the wildlife preservation group as a ranger, more or less.
But, look at the title of my post, Studio Ghibli films also deal with nature quite often (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke and other) – humans tread onto nature’s ground, nature with the help of some good people stomps back on humanity and kicks them out until everyone joins forces together – there remain humans within nature who protect it and live in harmony with it. The general theme is one of conflict into mostly reconciliation, and that even if humans keep encroaching on nature – nature can hold them at bay, for now.
Here, the werewolves, which are a classic example of an “in-between” concept (see Liminality as often used by the anthropologist Victor Turner), show us that there are other ways to view the relationship between mankind and nature. The father in the story (whose name we never learn) dies when he gives in to his animal nature in the middle of the town and jumps into an empty channel while trying to hunt a bird.
And then we have the children – Yuki is the older girl, she is feisty, outgoing and wild, as a child she keeps shifting to her wolf form and running around. Her outgoing nature means that once she grows up and goes to school she wants to get along with the other kids and all but gives up on her wolf nature. Her brother Ame is the opposite – he is a shy and scared child who shies away from his wolf form because he fears the animals he encounters in that form; going as far as to get beaten up by a cat or some other animal which his sister ridicules him for. As Ame grows up he withdraws from the other children, he doesn’t manage to join human society and finds solace in his wolf form, going up the nearby mountain – the movie ends with him forsaking his human form completely and moving to the mountain as its “master”, replacing the previous master, a fox that had taught him its ways.
Neither of the children reconciles the human life with the wolf life – as children Yuki spends a lot of time as a wolf and Ame as a boy, and as adults Yuki has no wish to ever become a wolf ever again (and moves to the city college), whereas Ame forsakes humanity completely. Their father died due to his inability to separate the human life from the animal side he had.
Only Hana somewhat joins the two disparate worlds, being a human who works with wildlife and nature preservation.
The art style does merit a couple of words. The technical quality of the art is stupendous. The people seem alive, the scenery receives the attention it requires in order to come off as majestic – in this way it is quite similar to Ghibli films, which is not a bad thing. The half-man and half-wolf faces while the children transformed is not something I was fond of, but I can see the point in doing it to help them retain their humanity and capacity to express emotions facially. The “big cheeks” of Hana and her kids will definitely be something some people find fault with, but these are people and they don’t all look like characters from K-On! Furthermore, I really loved the way they animated and drew the people’s statures – the father and Ame for instance have a slouchy thin body, and you can see their drooped shoulders. The characters in this film, as a result, felt a lot more like real people rather than plastic human stand-ins, which we receive in most anime.
Conclusion: This movie receives an 8/10 confused man-wolves from me. This movie is definitely worth your time, and you can also watch it with friends, family, and children, including those who don’t usually watch anime. It’s definitely a different take on the man-nature relationship than what Ghibli gives us in its films, including in the latest – Ponyo. In this case, we can only benefit from having more points of view. Another good film directed by Hosoda Mamoru.