Film Review: ‘Wolf Children’

If “Twilight” were an international anime sensation, then “Wolf Children” would be the alternate history Team Jacob fans had been demanding all along. Those displeased that Bella had a vampire demon baby can finally see how things might have gone had she chosen her half-wolf suitor instead, as anime helmer Mamoru Hosoda tenderly imagines the complications that follow when an ordinary girl takes a lupine lover. Though already a success in its home country, where the toon just won the Japan Academy’s animated feature award, this elegantly understated Funimation release will likely prove too weird for most American auds.

In what amounts to the exceptional “ever after” to a fantastical fairy-tale romance, “Wolf Children” opens with the shy courtship between Hana and a mysterious wolfman, Ookami, the last in a line of shape-shifting creatures descended from Japan’s now-extinct gray wolf species — the iconic equivalent of an American bald eagle, or, in light of the unconventional consummation that follows, the legend of Leda and the swan.

The couple’s too-brief time together results in two kids, Yuki and Ame, whom Hana chooses to deliver at home, nervous that they may be born as wolves. With gentle humor, Hosoda and co-writer Satoko Okudera (also a collaborator on “Summer Wars” and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) suggest the myriad ways the children’s upbringing differs from their peers. When they fall sick, for example, Hana never knows whether to take them to an animal hospital or a human one.

Popular on Variety

Instead of shopping, Ookami goes out hunting in the city. And then one day, he doesn’t come home. After seeing a street crew removing a wolf’s corpse from the sewer, Hana decides to move to the mountains, where Ookami’s kind once lived. Hosoda worked at Studio Ghibli for a time, and this segment of the film recalls Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro,” as young Yuki and Ame adjust to rural life — but instead of discovering magic in the world around them, they find it within, learning how to transform back and forth between wolf and human form in a series of playful sequences.

Embracing the patient, poetic style of such Japanese masters as Ozu and Mizoguchi, Hosoda sees no need for the manic energy and manufactured conflict of other recent toons. Instead of inventing a villain, the story sagely focuses on the challenge at hand — namely, how two kids endangered by their own identities find their place in the world. While Yuki embraces her human side, insisting on going to school and making friends, Ame responds to the call of the wild.

Stylistically, “Wolf Children” is the least showy of Hosoda’s features, frequently observing things from a distance or lingering on small details, as a live-action art film might. With the exception of a couple CG-enhanced scenes, this elegant project lovingly upholds Japan’s hand-drawn tradition, perfectly suited to the kids’ in-between states, as pointy ears and triangle noses emerge on their Bambi-eyed faces.

Wolf Children

Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

(Animated – Japan)

Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 20, 2013. (In New York Intl. Children’s Film Festival.) Running time: 117 MIN.

A Toho (Japan), Funimation Entertainment (U.S.) release of an NTV, Studio Chizu, Madhouse, Kadokawa Shoten, VAP, D.N. Dream Partners, YTV, Toho, Dentsu, Digital Frontier, STV, MMT, SDT, CTV, HTV, FBS production. Produced by Yuichiro Saito, Takuya Ito, Takashi Watanabe.

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Screenplay, Satoko Okudera, Hosoda; story, Hosoda. Camera (color); editor, Shigeru Nishiyama; music, Masakatsu Takagi.

Voices: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki, Yukito Nishii, Momoka Oono, Amon Kabe, Takuma Hiraoka, Megumi Hayashibara, Tadashi Nakamura, Tamio Ohki, Tomie Kataoka, Shota Sometani, Mitsuki Tanimura, Kumiko Aso, Bunta Sugawara.

Film Review: 'Wolf Children'

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'National Treasure 3' Moves Ahead From Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer

    Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer are moving ahead with a third “National Treasure” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner tapped to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write a fourth “Bad Boys” for Sony with Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. The “National [...]


    'Bad Boys 4' in the Works at Sony Pictures

    Sony Pictures has launched early development of an untitled fourth “Bad Boys” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner returning to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write “National Treasure 3” for Disney with Jerry Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. Bremner teamed [...]

  • Corsican Summer, Los Conductos

    Belgium's Best Friend Forever Nabs Berlinale-Bound 'Los Conductos,' 'Corsican Summer' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brussels-based company Best Friend Forever acquired two debut features, Camilo Restrepo’s Berlinale-bound “Los Conductos” and Pascal Tagnati’s “Corsican Summer.” Both films are produced by up and coming outfit 5à7 films. Set to premiere at the Berlinale’s new competitive section Encounters, “Los Conductos” is a Spanish-language film set in Medellin (Colombia) and loosely based on the [...]

  • Bob Iger

    Bob Iger's Disney Compensation Drops to $47.5 Million in 2019

    Disney chief Bob Iger saw his compensation for 2019 drop to $47.5 million, a 28% decline from his 2018 pay package. Disney’s leader earned $3 million in salary and a $21.8 million bonus, plus another $10 million in stock awards and $9.6 million in stock options, Disney disclosed in the company’s annual proxy filing with [...]

  • WTFilms' Gregory Chambet on Riding the

    WTFilms' Gregory Chambet on Riding the New Wave of French Genre Movies

    French horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies – in large part generated by a younger generation of directors combining genre and arthouse styles – are a rising force on the international scene. Among the companies riding this genre wave is WTFilms. French crossover films are a key programming strand at A-list festivals. For example, Cannes Directors’ [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Soaring to $70 Million Opening

    “Bad Boys for Life” is tracking for a solid launch with as much as $70 million at 3,740 venues in North America over the four-day holiday weekend, early estimates showed Friday. The figure was nearly double pre-release forecasts. Some sources cautioned that the final number could be closer to $60 million but “Bad Boys for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content