To tell you the truth, I really didn’t want to see Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki. Between Summer Wars being not that great, the ads for this film boldly announcing that “This summer, Hosoda Mamoru will put a big smile on every Japanese person’s face!” and the animal ears present in the promotional artwork, I was almost didn’t want to see this movie. Taking into consideration the events of one year ago, Japan needs some happy movies, but given the complex emotional heights reached by Tokikake, I wanted Hosoda to try something like that agiain, yet all the promotional material for Ookami Kodomo suggested otherwise. But given that now was really my only chance to catch this film in a theater, I invited a friend over and we both went in with zero expectations. Well, I had negative expectations.
…and it could just be that my expectations were incredibly low, but this movie is really good. It’s not as good as Tokikake, but it’s up there. Summer Wars? This movie blows that shit away.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the trailers floating around on the internet, Ookami Kodomo is about a young woman–Hana–who happens to fall in love with a werewolf, and her resulting adventures in raising the two kids–Ame and Yuki–that come about as a result of their love. But the film is far from that simple.
While I was suspect of Ookami Kodomo’s concept at first, the film takes it quite seriously. Sure, while the scene where Hana is holding her sick half-wolf half-human child while standing between a pediatrician’s and a vet’s is played for laughs; the film does a very good job of drawing you into its situation with depictions of things like sickness, the animal-like nature of the children, and their assimilation into society. It’s written as if Hosoda actually took into consideration what it would be like to raise werewolf children in the real world. It’s kind of silly when you think about it, but the movie does a solid job of selling you on the concept.
It also helps that the characters are quite believable human beings. There’s a lot of depth to the main players in Ookami Kodomo. Hana is perhaps too optimistic, but her strength and will to preserver is very convincing. Yuki–between her fiery voice acting and equally spastic movements–is painted quite realistically as a rambunctious child. Conversely, the quieter and slightly whiny Ame’s feelings of fear and isolation ring true. Given the movie covers a quite a bit of time, the manner in which it portrays the development of the two kids, and their feelings towards their existence as non-human beings in a human world, is quite realistic, and draws you in. At the end, both Ame and Yuki are completely different people from when the movie first began, and the transition feels smooth and natural.
The film also has a nice compliment of secondary characters. While obviously not written as deeply as the main characters, they work as good foils for them, and are placed in situations that allow them to shine. This is unlike Summer Wars, which had a large cast of lively archetypes, but in the end they never did anything. In Ookami Kodomo, a lot of the secondary characters are central to the development of the main cast, and don’t feel extraneous in the least. While a lot of the secondary characters stand out on their own merits, they also all work together as a whole to give the town in which most of the movie takes place its own unique character.
But on a more base level, there is a high level of artistic skill on display in the visual portrayal of the settings in Ookami Kodomo, as to be expected from a Hosoda film. But it’s not just technically proficient; the settings are alive with small details that give them a lot of character. For instance, the country house that the characters live in has very distinct design touches from the 1960s mixed with traditional Japanese design sense. The film does a good job of showing you that people live and work in these places, and everything hanging on the walls, sitting on the counters and so on are things that were acquired and placed there by real people. While a lot of animation will be content with rather generic props occupying space in their backgrounds, the settings in Ookami Kodomo actually feel like places where real people live. It goes without saying that scenes of nature are portrayed in striking detail, and the depiction of Tokyo in the earlier section of the movie is so real that it feels as if you can reach out and touch it.
Much like the amount of detail and character in the backgrounds in Ookami Kodomo, the animation in the film is also to a high standard. Again, this is to be expected, but as mentioned earlier, the lively animation goes a long way towards characterizing the people in this film. Much like the personal touches in the backgrounds, each character moves distinctly and realistically.
To top off the visual feast that is the character animation and background art, the film also uses color brilliantly to establish a solid sense of place for each of its scenes. For instance, scenes in winter are overlaid with a very sharp and cold blue tint, while scenes at dusk are given a deep, warm orange. While this technique is normal, its application in this movie is slightly exaggerated–but not too exaggerated–and draws you into the film’s world even further. As Hosoda’s films opt not to give the characters any shading, this strong use of color–along with the detailed backgrounds and well rendered animation–bestows a convincing sense of depth to otherwise “flat” characters.
And for all the smiles, cheesy typesetting, and bold claims in the trailer, this movie isn’t a happy movie. Much like Tokikake, Ookami Kodomo’s approach to portraying people’s emotions in fantastic situations is quite grounded. While the film certainly has happy moments, life isn’t smooth, and there are a few unglamorous things portrayed in the film. But more than that, the film is just about very hardworking people, and there are simply a lot of scenes of good ol’ hard work. Sure, the fruits of this hard work results in smiles, but it’s not the fake Hollywood happiness and fun that Summer Wars is all about. The film also doesn’t pull any BS to try and force a happy ending, and it’s not an especially conclusive ending, either. It just is. Given the nature of the film, it’s hard to really close it off nicely, so rather than telling you a story, the film feels like several slices of a very unique family’s life. That said, there is a very distinct beginning, middle and end, it’s just that the end kind of leaves you hanging. But so does life.
I paid 1800 yen for a movie ticket, 300 yen for a small popcorn, and 700 yen for the program booklet. I effectively spent nearly 3000 yen to sit down and watch a movie that’s under two hours long once. And it was worth it. If you can, try to catch this movie at a festival or something. Don’t let the big smiles and animal ears get to you–this movie is some of the realest anime I’ve seen in a while.