What is it like to be not of this world? To be part of a greater one, and hold a secret that not only would few people believe, many would find hurtful? What is it like to grow up with that secret, and have to make a choice between the greater world and something that’s deeply part of yourself? Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki is a story about this, and it has relevance for Christians who find themselves in the world, yet not completely of it.
Hana is a young college student who works part time while attending school. One day during one of her lectures, she sees a handsome, mysterious man who also attends her class. When she sees him sneak out of the class without submitting an attendance slip, she chases after him and finds that he doesn’t even attend their school as a student. She offers to share her textbook with him whenever he shows up, and from that a deep friendship and love is born.
However, he has a secret. He is a lycanthrope, possibly the last one of his kind in all of Japan. One night he reveals this side of him to Hana, who fully accepts him. Only then do they truly become a couple, and both are transformed by this new love. It’s not to last, sadly.
A tragedy forces Hana to flee to a remote village, accompanied only by her two young children, Ame and Yuki. She can no longer stay in the city, because Ame and Yuki are wolf children, lycanthropes similar to their father. Now Hana must learn not only to be a single mother and farmer, but raise two very spirited, very unique children. And one day both Ame and Yuki will need to make a choice. Are they wolves, or are they human?
This animated film is directed by Mamoru Hosoda, whose previous films included The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. While it is anime, Wolf Children doesn’t use many of the standard tropes. It feels far more like a Disney movie for adults, touching on themes that are universal throughout humankind; love, family, and the search for your own identity. Parents that raise young children will get the most of it, as it’s a loving tribute to the joys and fears of being a parent.
A parent raising two adorable children at that. Yuki is a headstrong, bossy little girl who thinks finding snakes is cool and collects animal bones as treasures. Ame is a quiet, timid boy who wonders why wolves always have to be the bad guys in books. When both turn into wolves, they become even more adorable. When Yuki doesn’t get her way, her favorite tactic is to change into her wolf form and run around in circles saying “I want it!” To keep her from transforming our of habit, Hana teaches her to chant “I’m gonna be a little girl, all the way home.” Watching her do that, or both of them running in a snowy field out of sheer joy in life, is a pleasure. The film is animated beautifully too, full of vibrant color and wonderful scenes of nature.
However, every child grows up. Yuki finds that being bossy and wild doesn’t help you belong in school, while Ame makes peace with his wolf form and becomes attuned to nature. Both are growing up fast, and soon both find situations that force them into an ultimate choice. What is a wolf child, and how should they live their life?
In a way, this is the same problem Christians face. We are also wolf children, in that inside of us is something that is greater than the world. For us, it is Christ, and too often the world treats us like it does Hana’s family. We have to hide who we are to avoid alarming or offending people, and we exist in two realms. One is the world of men, and one is the Church, as the body of Christ. We even may feel the need to flee as Hana did; homeschoolers might find her struggles and joys especially relevant to them. In many ways, you could even see similarities to end times or Christian dystopian fiction; Hana flees to her mountains with her children to avoid persecution, and finds a new, simpler life in the country.
Ame and Yuki’s struggles also resonate with believers. It’s not just wolves that are seen as the bad guys, and increasingly to remain a Christian is to make peace with being something that the world mocks, fears, and hates. Ame must also choose between the call of the forest (call of God,) and the natural life of school and jobs. Yuki on the other hand must keep her wolf nature in check in order to not be alone, and she must balance who she is with who she wants to be in the greater world. It’s not an easy thing, and it’s only when she can safely admit to being who she really is that she no longer needs to fear herself. This is a temptation and trial for believers, because while we are not of the world, we are in it; we must relate with it unless we choose Ame’s path, and that is not for us all.
The film isn’t perfect, however. One could argue that the kind of choice Ame and Yuki face is not an either/or one. I don’t think it’s entirely presented as that, instead of both of them choosing the main part of their lives. Ame’s choice also is possible to be seen as a harmful one, and hurting Hana and Yuki. I like to think that he realizes this, and occasionally visits his family. However, it is a warning; don’t seek God too much that you harm others by doing so. Don’t burn bridges unless you have no choice. Offense will come by being Christian, but we should be careful not to cause it in our actions.
Despite that, it’s a wonderful film. Anime fans will love it, but even non-anime fans should give it a try. There are only a few objectionable scenes. In one scene, a bare breast is shown while Hana breastfeeds Ame, and another is a scene of Hana and her lover in his wolf-form in bed. This is only shown from the shoulders up, and is thematically done to show that she accepts him wolf and all. It’s not for prurient motives, and it lasts barely a moment. There also is a lot of “adult fear” in the movie, as there are several scenes of Ame and Yuki in danger in the same way a curious young child might get into trouble. Apart from this, the film is fine to watch.
If you like this film, I recommend his previous work Summer Wars, which is about the importance of human connections over virtual ones. Mamoru Hosoda is a director to watch out for. Wolf Children is a heartwarming tale in its own right, but as Christians we can be subtly reminded of our own dual nature as both humans and Christians and the problems we have in growing up with that.