Friday, January 17, 2014

Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosada's Wolf Children didn't get nearly the visibility it deserved in America, mainly playing some children's film festivals. This means that I had almost no chance to see it in Boston; its one grown-up-friendly screening at the MFA was on a night when I had the sort of Red Sox tickets you just don't eat.

It's a shame that there hasn't been a bigger release for this and Hosada's other movies, and in fact they've been trending in the wrong direction her in the Boston area: While The Girl Who Leapt Through Time had a weekend at the Brattle, Summer Wars played scattered shows at the Museum of Fine Arts before one screening at the Sci-Fi Film Festival, and this one popped up two or three times as part of the Boston International Children's Film Festival, not always at great times.

That's still better than Makoto Shinkai's luck - I think I saw "Voices of a Distant Star" and maybe The Place Promised in Our Early Days at a Brattle anime marathon after seeing the latter at Fantasia, but nothing for 5 Centimeters per Second, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, or "Garden of Words", which is a crying shame, because I like Shinkai even more than Hosada - and that's a lot - and neither of them get nearly the attention they deserve here.

I almost wonder if Hayao Miyazaki's retirement might be a blessing in disguise for the likes of Hosada and Shinkai. Although the latter has often been talked up as the heir apparent to Miyazaki, Hosada is the one who has actually worked at Ghibli, and Wolf Children is easy enough to see as along the lines of Miyazaki's films, too. After The Wind Rises comes out, there may be a void for distributors and theaters that needs filling, and both of these filmmakers have what it takes to fill those holes in the schedule. At the very least, we don't have to talk about the master's retirement being the end of an era, because there are still folks doing grat work in the medium.

Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf Children)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 January 2014 in Jay's Living Room (catch-up, Blu-ray)

While there are many reasons to be concerned about the health of animation as a medium in Japan, from all-time greats retiring to the increasing insularity of certain genres, there is still plenty of talent doing excellent and original work on a regular basis. Wolf Children writer/director Mamoru Hosada is one of them, and close to the top of the list, with this feature just the latest demonstration of what an exceptional storyteller he is.

As the narration tells us, Hana (voice of Aoi Miyazaki) was in college on scholarship, working a part-time job to pay rent when she met Kare (voice of Takao Ohsawa), the love of her life. He's a mover who comes to University lectures despite not being enrolled, and, as it turns out, a wolf-man, perhaps the last in Japan. They marry and have two children, rambunctious daughter Ame and sickly son Yuki. The city, alas, is no place for wolves of any age, and Hana soon decides to take her children to the country, where they can run and change free from suspicious neighbors, although Hana must learn a number of new skills to get by.

One of the less-heralded things that animation can do - and that traditional animation can do better than the digital variety - is to have time pass smoothly; visually, there's no need to cast different actors for different ages or mess around with makeup jobs that never really convince. Perhaps the best example of this is Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress, but it's something Hosada uses to great effect here; the story plays out over roughly thirteen years, and in that time we see Hana mature from an inexperienced nineteen-year-old to a capable woman in her mid-thirties so naturally that we don't see the individual steps until it's over. In fact, it's actually somewhat jarring when Ame's voice switches from Amon Kabe to Yukito Nishii (and Yuki's from Momoka Ohno to Haru Kuroki); the way the characters look and act has progressed so perfectly that this discontinuity stands out.

Full review at EFC.

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