Drama/Family, 117 Minutes, 2012
I’ve unfortunately lost track of anime in the last few years. I’d keep up with the latest releases from Studio Ghibli and the odd TV show, but overall I just didn’t maintain my interest as I once had. Dipping my toe back in, I looked for recommendations and this kept getting mentioned.
I’m so glad it was.
First a warning: if you have a mother then this movie will likely make you cry. Cry like a little girl. This movie is, fundamentally, about mothers, or specifically, one very special mother. We first meet Hana as a struggling student; flustered and frazzled. She meets and falls in love with a mysterious boy who sneaks into her classes. As their relationship matures he finally reveals that he’s, as far as he knows, the last of his kind: a wolf spirit that can take the form of a man.
They live happily in the city for some time, and have a daughter, Yuki then a son, Ame. When tragedy strikes, Hana is left to raise her children alone and without guidance. This would be a challenge for any mother, but when you consider children that can turn into wolves at a whim, it takes on a more desperate air. To better protect her children, Hana moves deep into the country, away from nosy neighbors.
Hana pours herself selflessly into building a life for her children. She learns to farm, to repair the ramshackle house and to educate them in both their lives as well as she possible can. She faces seemingly insurmountable challenges, yet never considers herself strong or heroic. She simply does whatever needs to be done for her children.
As the children grow and decide upon their own paths, they struggle with their dual identities. Often their only comfort is being secure in the knowledge that their mother will always be there for them; will always struggle to give them whatever they may need. As good fantasy always does, this uses its fantasy elements to magnify a deeply human story.
The movie is gorgeous down to the last frame. The traditional Japanese cell animation is lovingly executed and lavished with rich, natural details. More than that, there is deft and wonderfully subtle film-craft at play that easily rivals the best live action work. The staging and camera work has a depth and maturity rarely seen in film in general, much less animation.
The emotional payload contained in the film is enormous. As you struggle with Hana and her children and exhalt in their triumphs you’ll enjoy a catharsis few films can match. It’s a wonderful, deeply moving experience.