A recent popular studio collaboration, appealing to younger, more internet savy individuals, is giving Studio Ghibli a run for their money. While few Studio Ghibli movies have mature themes, most of their movies are relatively more family friendly and most of their movies usually steers away from a modern, more technological world for more of a fantasy aspect. Hayao Miyazaki, director and owner of Studio Ghibli, has on numerous occasions made it apparent he was not a fan of cellphones and technology replacing good old fashion chatting and newspapers on the subways. During this time, Madhouse Studios, responsible for Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, Summer Wars and the most recent Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, has been captivating the hearts of teens and adults in Japan because of its more relatable themes in an era of smart phones and shorter attention spans.
The movie began airing on June 25th in Japanese theatres and the reception has been warm. While Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo focused on time travel and romance, and Summer Wars on family, technology and romance, Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki features a wide variety of situations stemming primarily from being different, specifically being half wolves, in a modern, conformed society. Family and change are the big topics in Ookami Kodomo, with light hearted romance and comedy filling in the gaps. The movie focuses on a family with a human mother and half-wolves who, under difficult circumstances, must leave the city to find a safe refuge from society’s unaccepting eyes. The result is that in their new (old) home, safe from a tougher city lifestyle, the daily challenges don’t disappear but continue to persists. The challenges include trying to accept who they are both in nature and human society and who they aren’t. These are similar issues that many foreigners and people with challenges, like single mothers, face today in Japan, one of the world’s most conformed modern societies.
Madhouse Studios and others, under Chizu Studios in this movie, have really outdone themselves with this movie. With director Mamoru Hosoda returning to direct, you can see the influence from his previous movies. This includes such things like the urgency created by well animated running sequences, and time slowing down was brought to life with detailed, slow moving facial changes and body movements. The environment feels lush and alive, room shadows and the environment aren’t just tones but dictate the mood by taking advantage of colors from the natural environment of the scene. The Raindrops are detailed, falling and changing just as quickly as the colors do. Camera angles zoom in to show a farmer’s body movements and zoom out to show their hard work lit by a setting, rouge sun. These details make the movie much more elaborate and takes advantage of the limitless possibilities of animation. I felt like I was a kid watching Totoro again, but this time my childhood was taking me for an adventure in a far away land known as the countryside. Having visited some more rural areas in Japan, I can say the feelings that the art conveys is true to the reality. The wolves are nowhere as detailed or as real as Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, but they look simple enough to remind you the children aren’t pure wolves. The characters are drawn simple, and cute compared to Ghibli’s intimidating or potentially scary/weird characters they sometimes have in shows like Spirited Away and Mononoke Hime. This is a good thing for it helps kids understand difficult topics through candy colored glasses.
The music never really stood out as something powerful in this movie, but the sound effects were especially present during times of crisis. The falling of rain, the traffic around the city and the animals in the forest made sounds just as beautiful as any symphony. Compared to previous movies the music doesn’t do much to stir up emotions, except during happier moments, but nowhere near as impressive as Studio Ghibli’s usual masterpieces. The lack of music during a lot of the scene actually helps create more natural tension, but may be too serious for younger children. The ending theme by Ann Sally, Mom’s Song, wasn’t as catchy as the songs in Summer Wars and The Girl who leapt through time, but the lyrics probably had something nice to say about mom. The voice acting was well done, especially Yuki’s voice. As a child. She showed the most energy and even now I can hear her strange childhood laugh, which helped lighten the mood whenever characters were conflicted. As she grows up, her more mature voice also has a lot of impact, sounding more like a mother figure to her little brother. Her younger brother, Ame, has a more mysterious voice, rarely speaking, but when he does you can feel his fear and anxiety.
Overall it’s an exciting movie by a fine collaboration of studios that runs for about two hours. Despite my limited knowledge of Japanese and long work day I could easily understand what was going on. The movie also felt like some of the recent popular “origins” and prequel movies. It spends enough time setting up the characters and back story that many other movies lack. They could easily make a sequel focusing on the younger characters, who grew up with their powers still physically within them but ultimately this movie was made to be more like a slice of life movie without an overly bearing central or moral theme.