I got roped into being interpreter for Mamoru Hosoda, director of famed anime movies, who came down to Australia for screenings in Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast. I only got to do with Sydney leg, but it was plenty educational. Japanese Anime movies are a genre unto themselves in most descriptions of cinema, but Hosoda-san couched his film in terms of animation as a broad genre, and the drawing aspect deriving itself out of a long tradition of art.
Mr. Hosoda has got quite a passionate following in Australia, and probably right through Asia, though you wouldn’t know about it from the general level of name recognition. He’s already been compared to Hayao Miyazaki, who is seen as the grand doyen of the Anime movie and some people even say that it is Mr. Hosoda who is going to extend the genre into new terrain. Mamoru Hosoda has also started his own production company that specialises in the production of feature length Aime films for theatrical release, eschewing work or television and commercials.
As for the movie he brought out, it was quite the curiosity, so I thought I might jot down some things. As usual, here’s the spoiler warning. Don’t read on if you hate spoilers.
What’s Good About It
As Anime movies go, this one makes more sense thanmany others. The one premise that is outlandish is that it starts ass a love story between University student and a wolfman. What follows is entirely logical, almost to the point of quotidian pedantry.
The artwork is nice and analogue-looking, with a strong emphasis on drawn lines and carefully assembled palette of colours. Rare for a Japanese Anime, the sound track actually is mixed with great sound perspective and the whole production is stylish without resorting to flashy tricks.
What’s Bad About it
I always worry about monster movies that get sentimental about the monster. Except in this case, the Wolfman isn’t much of a monster; he doesn’t go around killing people during the night. He just seems to turn into a wolf and ends up dead, drowned in a river. So on that level, it’s not much about a monster.
The love story still feels a little maudlin, and the film only really gets going when the young mother moves to the deeply rural village to raise her children far way from civilisation.
What’s Interesting About It
The film had me wonder in about the archetype of the dog-masked man that appears in myths and fiction. On one level, he is Anubis, Guardian of the Afterlife. The father figure thus casts a rather gloomy shadow over the family he begets. The other reference I could conjure up was the main character Harima from the Sun episode of Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Phoenix’. ‘Phoenix’ of course is a work deeply interested in reincarnation, but in the final installment drawn by Tezuka, the affirmation of Buddhism and reincarnation breaks down, and Tezuka breaks ranks with religious thought.
With both Anubis and Harima, the symbol seems to lead through death and transformation, while the reference to Harima evokes a strong sense of the nature deities of Japan. The question that begs to be answered is whether the wolfman really is a wolf – descended from the extinct Japanese wolf, or whether he is in fact some kind of incarnation of a natural deity of Japan. Not that it gets answered, but it is there to be pondered.
The reason why Tezuka breaks down is because he finds himself Japanese first in a very organic, attached-to-the-land kind of way, and the abstraction of Buddhism comes to him as foreign. Indeed, the story of the adoption of Buddhism plays itself out as an epic battle in the spiritual realm in ‘Phoenix’, and it is clear that Tezuka’s compassion and empathy resides with the indigenous natural deities who get squeezed out by the ferocious foreign deities of the Amida Buddha.
In ‘Wolf Children’, Hosoda is explicit in outlining two choices, one that leads back to the indigenous deities, and one that leads to conformity and loss of identity. Ame, returns to the wild as a wolf-god, while Yuki decides to hide her nature and submit to the consensus that forms civilisation.
Life As Transformation
Japanese Anime and manga hold a fascination for transformation. Transformation is the central theme in most of these shows. A normal person by day turns into a superhero or a super villain with a sudden flash. The fixation on transformation appeals in the same way that Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ appeals to us, for in transformative change we can abandon the restricting logic of reason and truth. At the heart of fiction is an impulse to refute life and thus we’re drawn to possibilities and stories of enabling people and characters.
The weirdest scene in the film might be the sex scene, where, once the man reveals himself to be a wolf man, he makes love to the woman in his wolf guise. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one because it’s all very ‘Pony the Orangutan’ to me.
Still, the notion of transformation is everywhere in the film. The mother willfully makes herself into a rural farmer, the children slip in and out of their wolf identities, people change in their attitudes and reveal themselves to be unlike the first impressions they give. As long as we hold out hope to change, the film seems we have a chance at being better than who we are.
As it turns out the one of the main criticisms of the film in Japan according to the directors was that the mother seemed too much like a super-Mom. Yet, it seems to me that, that is exactly the point of the film; that all of us have within us a kind of transformative potential. Whether that’s actually true or not may depend on how much you acknowledge the power of reality. 🙂