A few thoughts about the anime film The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki shown at the Hawai‘i International Film Festival.
The Movie (some light spoilers)
The story starts off with the story of Hana, a college student, who befriends a mysterious man who shows up in one of her classes. The man eventually reveals a secret about himself: he is the last decendant of wolf-people, creatures who have the quality of both man and wolf. Despite this complication, the two become lovers and have two children: Yuki and Ame.
Tragedy strikes and the wolf-man is lost to the young family. Hana, already hiding from society in some ways because of the nature of her children, decides to take the kids out of the city and live in a rural community away from too many prying eyes. Hana is not completely alone in their new home though, as there is a small but helpful community in the "wilderness".
It's a hard life raising the two children alone even in the more isolated environment. Throughout this, Hana keeps smiling as her deceased father encouraged her to do. Yuki, the firstborn girl, is a handful. Wild and never without energy or appetite, she is stubborn and insistent and always tries to get her way. By contrast, the boy Ame is quiet and cautious. He gets sick often and seems to always be needing help from his mother.
As the children grow, they must come to grips with their nature. Will they choose their wolf side or human side? The last act of the movie, culminated by a storm that separates the three main characters, sets them each on their chosen paths.
To my great shame, I haven't seen other films by Mamoru Hosoda and Madhouse Inc (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars). I've heard good things about those though, and was looking forward to seeing The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki). I'm still not firmly decided on how I feel about the movie. I can say I liked it, but I can't say that I loved it.
First the easier stuff, the animation. I thought the animation was good, but short of fantastic. The characters are animated in a very simple way. For the kids it works well. Their energy (or lack thereof) are expressed well with this animation style. The lack of detail though, does detract at times. Sometimes the hands and feet look like stubs at the end of limbs and the lack of facial detail at a distance can look odd. This is made more obvious because the background and environments are so lushly rendered. The flowers, plants, and cityscapes are (mostly) beautifully done, giving you the feeling you are there. This also emphasizes the difference between city life and life in nature.
The children are adorable. You cannot help but laugh and smile at many of their actions and activities. The other rural villagers are also a fun gang to get to know, even the gruff Nirasaki. These characters can be compared favorably to those in Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki films (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo). Hana is a mixed bag though. She is somewhat of a saint, doing anything for her children. In some ways though, that makes her kind of infuriating. Sometimes you want more of an emotional reaction or something from her. Also some of her decisions can be questionable. All in all though, another positive part of the movie.
Storywise, it's a bit murky. The general tale is a simple and decent one. Nothing overly ambitious, nor is it incomplete. Yet, in a way it feels that way. The story covers 13 years but I feel it could have done better by giving us just a little more. Yes, it ends on a note where you can say "it tells a story", but for me just a little more would have helped it. Perhaps it is a bit more of a Western mindset, but the story ends somewhat abruptly, where if it were a bit more fleshed out and the audience given a bit more about how things turn out, it would be more satisfying. Still, it was worth seeing for the anime fan, for the more causal animation or movie fan it may be more of a "home video" movie.
The HIFF Experience
As with the other film I have seen recently, I saw this as part of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival (HIFF). Unlike the other movie, there no "perks" at the showing that I went to. In fact, though there was a person who introduced the film, they did not mention that HIFF was the film's US debut location. I did see the second showing of the film (the first being Wednesday October 17) so maybe there were "perks" and that mention then, but other than the short introduction nothing was added to the viewing experience. In fact, throughout the film there were visible glitches in the picture. It wasn't too bad, but was odd.
Note: It was announced during New York Comic Con 2012 that The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki has been picked up by Funimation Entertainment for US home distribution in 2013.