Initially released in 2012 – with an English dub following in late 2013 – I’ve only just managed to watch Mamoru Hosoda’s wonderful animated movie, Wolf Children.

Much like the output of Studio Ghibli, Wolf Children is a tale steeped in magical realism – with realistically rendered urban and rural settings, as well as more fantastical elements that don’t ever feel out of place. The story of Hana, a young college student in the city, the film sees her falling in love with a mysterious new student in her class. Over time, he reveals his true nature as a shapeshifter, able to switch between human and wolf forms – and remain somewhat inbetween – at will. After their second child is born – a boy, following the birth of their daughter – tragedy strikes and Hana must raise her shapeshifting children alone, attempting to both keep them safe and allow them to be who they want to be.

It’s a film that drags you through the emotional wringer somewhat, with the ultimately tragic love story of the opening act being sweetly romantic and ultimately, inevitably devastating. Beyond the opening act, there’s whimsy and humour, as well as sharply shocking moments that inject some real unpredictability as the children grow into teenagers. One thing I was extremely impressed with is that Hosoda’s story doesn’t shy away from the more realistic elements of pregnancy and nursing; it’s presented very matter-of-factly and in a way that you very rarely see in Western cinema.

Likewise with the challenges of Hana attempting to raise her unique children; it’s never sugar-coated and – even with the fantastical elements – always feels believable. There’s an incredible amount of drama wrung from the premise, but it’s not all doom and gloom; there’s a number of wonderfully comedic scenes dotted throughout, amidst the drama of the children growing up in a world that could never understand them.

The animation is beautiful too, with some neat, restrained use of CGI in a few notable sequences. The music felt a little overbearing at times, however, with a number of dialogue sequences drowned out by a loud, intrusive score.

On the whole, however, Wolf Children is a remarkable film. It’s a unique tale that shines a light on the eternal struggle of parenting and the desire to ensure that you’re doing the best for your children, even if they can turn into wolves on a whim.

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