Thankfully I am more of a dog person than a feline fanatic.
If you are on enough school field trips as a kid, one begins to notice certain aspects of available merchandise.
Museums, aquariums, forest preserves with an associated gift shop. Most of them, somewhere, sell shirts.
My clothes shopping of those younger school days was a once a year affair in an outlet center a whole state over. But I could buy a new shirt sometimes with field trip money, and this was quite fancy for me. A gift shop shirt, after all, you see. Not something one just finds in a normal store. Or something to that effect.
A lot of the selection ends up being, as one might imagine, large graphic t-shirts with animals on them. Dinosaurs, bears, sharks, that sort of thing. Whole shirt prints so large and with such scope you would never want to tuck the shirt in. Half the picture would end up cut off. Dinosaurs, bears, sharks. Full body poses, maybe on a tie-dye background, that sort of thing.
A lot of the ones I would pick, when allowed to treat myself with such selections, ended up being the wolf shirts.
To this day, I still have that small drawer of wolf shirts, even if I do not take them out.
Let us consider, if but for a moment, that in pre-teen days my brain once processed a devastating thought train. How I should select my “finest wolf shirt.” So as to look presentable for finer school functions and such, after all. Maybe aiming to ask someone out I fancied.
And I will give you as many additional moments as you wish to laugh at the clueless situation of past me again and again.
[I mean, I know I do all the time.]
There is a point a fair ways into Wolf Children where Hana, the mother of the titular kids of the film, asks someone if he likes wolves or not. A young boy of about middle school age. So, about the same years I would have been at those particularly memorable fashion moments of mine.
This seems as good a place as any for me to sit at the table and begin to see if I can try to find common ground with this movie.
Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki) is a film released in 2012, directed by Mamoru Hosoda.
He was (and still remains) in a prime position to push ever more ambitious projects. Increasing popularity in both his domestic market and with international audiences after successful runs of Summer Wars and The Girl Who Lept Through Time, among others. Here on Wolf Children he again shared screenwriting duties with longtime collaborator Satoko Okudera. Even further, his own Studio Chizu was established to push animation production forward. In conjunction with Madhouse, who he had developed a significant track record with. Though he certainly bounced between a few studios over the years, they could by all means provide ample production muscle. On a more thematic scale, it would even act as a kind of parental send off into the world. And to wit, Hosoda’s most recent film, 2015’s The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) lists the singular Studio Chizu as its Animation Production credit.
This is a nice little story in its own right, and to walk things back to Wolf Children it can be seen as all the more so. The film clocks in at almost two whole hours long, with its primary aims set on single motherhood and a set of kids coming up in such an environment. This itself being a subject matter Hosoda has experience with and perspective from his own childhood.
All of which puts me in something of a sticky situation. Wolf Children is by far the shortest of the three anime which arrived on the Secret Santa list I received. But it has proven to give me the most mental rewrites concerning what I want to settle on saying about the piece.
I am of two minds of it, so I hope you will stick around for each.
A great tragedy of Wolf Children, for me, is I am contending with how the central figure of the entire movie strikes me as devoid of character.
When we begin the film, Hana is a university student who through matters of circumstance ends up getting to better know a mysterious student. Who turns out to not be an official student at all. Just someone crashing classes on the sly to pass the time, but his dark secret turns out to be that he is a genuine wolf-man. But they see each other more and more. One thing leads to another. Which ends up leading to something else occurring to their relationship through happenstance. Which I feel dances around spoilers well enough. Even the poster for the film is none too shy about hiding this being a film about a single mom.
Hana, now being the sole household provider for her kids, is faced with having to take on a whole hell of a lot of pressure. Even more responsibility than even the already heavy weights of raising children when one has ample domestic aid and emotional support. And we cover a whole swath of years for the journey ahead. From those earliest breast feeding days and all the way up to the kids being junior high age.
Hana is an indomitable force of nature through it all. Beyond mom as a mere name that a child may call their parent as a name and identifier. Mother as a champion title on a mythical goddess level. Her positive game face always at the ready to mask a more negative situation. Her love is an endless and undying inferno. In the face of what may seem insurmountable odds she will never waver to help her children. Their happiness is hers.
This is a lovely and wonderful series of sentiments, to be sure. But I can not for the life of me shake the bothersome feeling it leaves me with. Hana’s entire person as presented to us relates to her children, and to a lesser but related extent the void from their father.
Hana never has a gentle sigh from looking at a shelf and thinking of a hobby she wishes she could get back around to having free time for. She never has a moment where perhaps one of her kids draws a picture, and tries to present it to her only met with a “Not right now, mommy is busy” while she handles calculating household finances or some-such. Hana never gets to wonder about what friends or family must be doing at a special event somewhere. No self debating the risks of bringing her kids to such get-togethers. For all the books she reads to stay on top of every possible need for her kids, all the way up to renovating a rundown country wreck of a house and the corresponding farmland, she never has a personal moment of stumbling into an old textbook from those dreamy college days from the start of the film.
If I mentally subtract the wolf children from Hana’s life and try to add up everything else we get to know about her, in a certain light what remains distresses me. On a deep rooted level which keeps gnawing away at the back of my head. We do not get to know much of anything about her. Even great and powerful supermoms think of themselves sometimes, even if in their mind.
Maybe Hana could have had a moment where she may have been able to reflect on a time from her own childhood (single parent, double, or otherwise). How she may have loved or hated certain quirks or responses from the adults in her life in those days. Trying then all of a sudden due to her life situation to be the parent with the traits she may have wished to experience herself as a kid.
A lot of one’s own needs gets put aside once kids enter the picture. Absolutely, one never desires children to be forced to be in a household where they are not wanted.
But even teeny tiny little commercial break length television shows like I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying find some space where adults can question their own selfishness as it relates to others living in their household. Films like Only Yesterday or Millennium Actress can show a wide range of good and bad times recalled from past days as a woman reflects on her life and love and what may been lost or found along the way.
I kept waiting to see such sides from Hana as well. But though some sleepy nights reading under a lamp we may see in a montage, I never felt like I got to know her as a person. How that would guide her parentage or the household she would want to keep.
I do not know who Hana was or is, what she desires outside of this shook up snowglobe of a world. If she is off screen, she may as well be a treasured figurine centerpeice in a sealed box.
The question I then come to, as I rack my brain with it again and again, is also important. I said I was of two minds regarding this film, after all.
…isn’t giving a lovely gift the best and preferred thing one can do, in a lot of situations?
A Mother’s Day card might say something like “I know I caused a lot of trouble sometimes, but thank you for always looking out for me and for all the hard work you continue to do.”
One generally does not delineate in devastating detail every last possible, and potentially even traumatic, thing that may entail.
To wit, while dangerous situations do at times crop up in Wolf Children, they also resolve as fast as they pop up. Like a glance at a memory long since papered over. Enough to act as reminder of something which once happened. At any opportunity where the film could go into the pressure cooker for an extended period, it wraps up and moves along to something else ever so swift. Such as an early situation where government child services officials are at Hana’s door wondering about immunization papers and other concerns.
That bugs me, on the one hand, sure. Good scenes could come out of exploring a lot of such material. It would lead back toward seeing more of Hana’s personality.
…But that would make for such a trickier thing to gift wrap and give to a loved one too, right?
I am not being slight here either. If viewed as a successful artist being able to leverage a few million dollars of studio capital from his professional field into a gigantic “Thank You, I Love You, I Could Not Have Done It Without You” card via film, then in that light it would be difficult not to applaud the final product. Wolf Children is a precision laser engraved gift box of sights and sounds. One Hosoda could not only give to those most important to him. But also in the process provide millions of others to see or share as they saw fit as well.
You could buy a bundle of Wolf Children copies as Christmas stocking stuffers, Mother’s Day gifts, and so on. The official English website for it downright provides freebies like cards, and even little wolfear headgear arts and crafts. Unless the recipient was hardline against animation itself (or perhaps the prospect of a ever so minor sex scene early on), the film is aggressively committed to the act of trying to turn as few folks away as possible.
Someone could get quite stuck on some of the same things I did regarding the characters and never escape that zone. Sure. But, I also do not view the holiday greeting card section of the bookstore with the same eyes as the rest of it either. I still buy them, after all, just not for the same reasons as things a few shelves over.
One does not get angry at a Hallmark holiday card for not containing the weight of the world.
Does that make them… worse, somehow? Probably… not? Right?
In similar fashion, it is perhaps for the best Wolf Children was gifted to me, rather than through my selecting it for myself. I would get to it sooner or later, but done another way it would be like buying a card for myself. And character concerns aside, I could still see sending it on to another down the road in the right circumstances.
For the Anime Secret Santa posts I did last year, I started with Rainbow-Colored Fireflies: The Eternal Summer Vacation (Nijiiro Hotaru: Eien no Natsuyasumi). That film was directed by Kōnosuke Uda. The plot similarly concerns a child whose father is no longer in his life and coming to terms with this with a supernatural situation in tow. As with Wolf Children, it also saw release in 2012.
Uda has previously directed Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, as a part of which Hosoda performed Key Animator duties. They each worked on various parts of the Sailor Moon series. Though rarely if ever at the same time, and Uda more directing and storyboarding while Hosoda was on the drawing end. They have each been able to make their marks on One Piece, theatrically and on television and each through their directing.
I feel Rainbow-Colored Fireflies and Wolf Children bookend each other rather well in this respect. Each colleague trying to find ways to express similar if also very different sentiments, and how they each went about it in the end. You can consider the two works almost like long separated companions. They help each other out.
As far as my writing output on this little website is concerned, I can say I am glad it did not take a lifetime for these two works to see each other again.