It seems that as Mamouru Hosoda continues to receive wider recognition outside of Japan, the more people are eager to compare him to the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Part of this stems from the fact that Hosoda was original tapped to direct Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle; and part of it is due to how well Hosoda blends fantasy and reality in his films. Wolf Children is bound to add further fuel to the Miyazaki comparisons, especially in regards to the fluid animation and childlike sense of wonder in the film. However, hopefully Wolf Children will cement Hosoda as a brilliant talent in his own.

Wolf Children is a fantastical tale about a young woman, Hana, who becomes infatuated with a mysterious man she encounters at university. As the bond between them grows stronger, the man reveals that he a wolf-man, the last of his kind. At first Hana is stunned by the news, as wolves have been extinct for a long time, but her growing love for him allows her to accept him completely. The pair become inseparable and Hana eventually gives birth to two children, a daughter, Yuki, and a son, Ame. When tragedy strikes unexpectedly, Hana is forced to raise the children on her own. Over time the children being to display the ability to change into wolves. This becomes rather problematic for Hana as she struggles to keep her children’s gift secret. When Child Services begins to inquire why Yuki and Ame have not received the vaccinations that are required for all Japanese children, Hana decides it is time for change.

Wanting to give Yuki and Ame a chance to choose whether or not they want to live life as a wolf or as a human, Hana buys a dilapidated home in an isolated countryside. With few neighbours around they are able to roam free and truly discover themselves. Yuki immediately embraces her wolf traits and becomes a skilled hunter, while Ame is troubled by the perception of wolves being villains in all the children’s book he reads. When Yuki get a little older, her desire to experience school with others greatly increases. Yuki tries her best to conceal her true identity from her classmates, but it becomes increasingly difficult when a new boy at school begins pestering her incessantly. By the time Ame is of age to attend school, he finds it much tougher fitting in and begins to take more interest in his lineage and his true nature.

Aside from the gorgeous animation, what makes Wolf Children a wonderful film is the attention that Mamouru Hosoda pays to the family dynamics. All the characters eventually go through changes, but not necessarily the ones you would expect. Yuri and Ame end up embracing what they seemingly denounce at first. Hana goes from meek girl in love to a mother who learns to fend for herself in the countryside. Though the film is a coming-of-age tale of sorts with respect to the children, Hosoda ensures that Hana never falls into the background. She is the character who you end up embracing the most as she represents the unrelenting love, and determination, of mothers everywhere.

Despite all the things that Wolf Children does right, it should be noted that the film does feel much longer than it needs to be. Hosoda’s story covers over a decade in the life of this family and he takes his time exploring it. Fortunately, there is enough in the story that you are willing to stick with Hosoda’s overall vision for the film. Wolf Children may feature a fantastical premise, but it is the gripping look at a family growing together that makes the film a pleasure to watch.

Wolf Children is screening today at 8:15 pm at The Royal