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Wolf Children (2012)

There's a rich tradition in Japanese folk-lore of certain animals (foxes, racoons and wolves included) that are able to take on human form and blend seamlessly into the population. It's from this tradition that the titular lupines of Wolf Children are born, quite distinct from western ideas of werewolves or lycanthropes. In fact it's quite the opposite:- these aren't humans that transform into wolves, but wolves able to become human.

Mamoru Hosoda's Wolf Children is also about as far removed from a werewolf movie as it's possible to get. There's no attacking of humans, silver bullets or curses, and precious little howling. The film starts with college girl Hana falling for a mysterious guy on campus, who -you guessed it- turned out to be a wolf. Several years and two kids (cubs?) later, Hana- now alone- must deal with the trials and tribulations of raising half-wolf kiddiwinks in modern Japan, all the while trying to keep their true nature secret.

The whole thing unfolds at a relaxed pace, giving time for the characters to breathe and grow into fully rounded, well-realised creations. The early part of the story dealing with the romance between Hana and her wolfy beau is subtly told, managing to be emotionally engaging. But this isn't Twilight (thank God) and it's not in inter-species romance that the real story lies.

It's in the relationship between Hana and her off-spring that the film really comes alive, and their bond is strong and completely convincing. Despite the fantastical nature of the story, there's real truth in the characters and relationships that makes it easy to identify with. Outside the central conceit, the film is light on fantasy or supernatural shenanigans. Despite the fact the central characters can transform between humans and wolves, it's surprisingly down-to-earth and grounded in reality. In fact, it's easy to imagine that the film would have been equally enjoyable if it had gone for a more realistic, every-day scenario.

It may say Wolf Children on the box, but in reality it's Hana who is the real star of the show. Strong, caring and capable, she would do anything for her children. She can be seen to represent all the single mothers bringing up children in tough circumstances. It's refreshing to see a character like this as the focus of an anime, but I guess Wolf Mama just didn't have quite the same ring to it.

Beautifully animated with sumptuous visuals, it's no slouch in the looks department either. The film is bathed in a warm and nostalgic atmosphere, and similarities between Hosoda's work and that of Studio Ghibli are unmistakable. It's little wonder that some have the younger director pegged as a potential next Miyazaki. In its portrayal of childhood in rural Japan it most clearly recalls My Neighbour Totoro- and really in animation there's few higher compliments than that.

It won't be for everyone. If any film that could be described as “delightful” is likely to bring you out in hives then stay away. But for the rest of us Wolf Children is a gorgeous and expertly made slice of cinematic loveliness. Thoroughly recommended.