Tag Archives: Summer Wars

Wolf Children: Conflicted Feelings

I was going to save this particular post for Mother’s Day, but seeing that the director has a new movie coming out shortly, I felt obligated to revisit this most recent entry in his small (compared to some), but respectable career and give my thoughts on it.

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Ah, Wolf Children. The beautiful, moving story about how truly difficult and thankless motherhood is.

…I have very mixed feelings about this film.

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who brought us one of my favorite anime films, Summer Wars, Wolf Children tells the story of a young woman named Hana who falls in love, only to discover that the man is a werewolf. While being initially shocked speechless, Hana succumbs to Miyazaki Syndrome, a frequent disorder in Studio Ghibli films in which a character, usually a child, is relatively unfazed by something that would make a real human being run away screaming. Hana has two children, a boy and a girl, before her love dies in a tragic accident and she is left to raise two wild, young half-werewolves on her own.

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Afraid that society will turn them into freaks at best and science experiments at worst, Hana moves her children out to a remote countryside and attempts to raise them on her own. Slowly, the neighbors pitch in, and the children themselves get better at hiding their wolf-ish transformations in front of people. The older sister, Yuki, though initially a literal wild child, grows to love human company and wants to fit in with her normal peers, and the younger brother, Ame, quiet and shy, closes himself off from humans slowly but surely and embraces solitude, nature, and self-sufficiency.

It’s a great story; wonderfully animated and deeply moving. And, like one of my other favorite anime films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, something about it feels so real despite the fantasy elements leaking into the slice-of-life.

Maybe because it feels so real, the ending leaves me feeling so full, and yet empty.

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I am not a mother. I hope to be one someday, but I am nowhere near close to being ready. I get the sense that motherhood is thankless, but, for some, endlessly rewarding at the same time, and that is a paradox that I hope to grasp when I finally take the first step into such unknown territory.

Right now, it makes no sense to me.

Without spoiling anything, I will tell you that the ending is the most bitter-sweet thing I have ever seen. And while I praise it for that, it also leaves me feeling horribly unsatisfied. Here is my attempt to explain why:

If a good person undergoes pain, it’s very hard to make that genuinely comedic, especially if you don’t dig the kafkaesque. Generally, we only tolerate a good character undergoing undue pain and strain if they rise above it in the end and get something that we believe that they truly deserve (think Cinderella). It’s cathartic for us because it makes us feel good, and reaffirms our belief that there is some sort of justice in the world; that bad things can happen to good people, but it isn’t without reason.

Sometimes I think that is the adult equivalent of believing in Santa Claus.

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But regardless, it’s almost an instinctual thing for people, myself included. You watch a good person struggle only because you want them to succeed. And watching Hana go through so much struggle and misery, just to be rewarded with intangible vagaries like “personal growth”, or “the knowledge that she’s done all she can and her kids will be fine hopefully”, feels more sad than it does gratifying or empowering.

Her children never once thank her or consider her before doing anything. It seems odd, especially because a lot of Japanese anime and movies perpetuate the “respect your elders” ideal, and have something I call “the guilt mentality;” i.e., whenever a character guilts another character for “making them worry”, or for not considering how their actions affected other people. Neither of these are particularly bad things, and it’s easy to see that the children love their mother in the movie, but Hana never guilts or even explains to them all of things she has had to go through alone, while supporting them, even once they are old enough to understand better. And they never ask her about what she has been through.

On top of that, she can’t even publicly mourn her husband because he dies in wolf form and gets carted off in a dump truck right in front of her.

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In the end, her children find their own paths, and it feels like Hana is left alone.

That is why I think this movie is realistic, and my sense of justice and connection with Hana as a character made me long for an unrealistic, “happy” ending. An ending not brought about by guilt or bitterness or remorse, but by deep family connection and understanding.

This film helped me come to grips with an unrealistic ideal (nay, expectation) of love, but it still leaves me unsure if I want to watch it ever again. Maybe once was enough.

But it is definitely worth seeing at least once. John Oliver’s “Paid Leave” episode of Last Week Tonight didn’t give me nearly this much painful insight on motherhood, and that is a show about the real world. I learned so much from a movie that has freaking werewolves in it. 

Imagine the stress of your small kids getting sick, but not being able to take them to a doctor because of something like this
Imagine the stress of your small kids getting sick, but not being able to take them to a doctor because of something like this.

As usual, Hosoda gives us sweetness, warmth, and slice-of-life, but this is even more potent, powerful, and heartfelt than even The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. He may not be in Studio Ghibli, but in my opinion, his work deserves a place of honor on that same level.

 

9/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to Hosoda, Toho, Studio Chizu, and Studio Madhouse. Nothing belongs to me.

 

 

 

Summer Wars Review

This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.

This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.

Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!

Oh, look! A butterfly!

No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.

A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.

That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.

Kevin Butler sees all, knows all....
Kevin Butler sees all, knows all….

Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.

And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.

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*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.

Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.

As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.

The Characters:

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Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.

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He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.

Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.

As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).

The family really makes this movie for me.

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Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit specifically) is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.

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Mansuke is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.

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Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.

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The great-grandmother,  Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.

There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.

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Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.

The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.

*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.

Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.

And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.

The Animation:

This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children. 

For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.

The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.

The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.

The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.

The Music:

Not much to say here, other than it just fits.

Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.

The Acting:

Or, in this case, the voice acting!

I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-

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*sighs*

I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.

The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. 🙂

Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!

What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.

Still…

No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of Summer Wars and at least give anime a try once. You might decide you like it 🙂