"The Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki"
first snowy morning in the mountains. The ability to communicate so much through his eye alone is a talent that Hosoda has never shown to this degree before, and it implies great promise about his future as a director and the evolution of his vision.
Hana (Miyazaki Aoi, truly superb) and a young man (Osawa Takao) whose name we never learn. The second is the chronicle of Hana's years struggling to raise daughter Yuki (Ono Momoka) - born in the snow - and son Ame (Kabe Amon) born in the rain. And the third is the chronicle of those children beginning to find their own way in life, in unusual and challenging circumstances. All are charming in their way and each offer a unique pleasure to the viewer, but it's in this middle section where Ame and Yuki really achieves transcendence - these scenes are beautiful both visually and emotionally, and the story they tell is the most approachable and involving.
wolf man - a descendent of the last wolves of Japan, capable of changing from human to wolf form virtually at will. The fact that this is never really explained might be an issue for some, but I'm comfortable with Hosoda's choice here because it suits the story he's trying to tell. This mixed heritage that Ame and Yuki share is the crux of the story - surely it's metaphorical (and likely somewhat autobiographical) in the sense that Hosoda is trying to make a statement about the heartbreaking necessity that children choose a path that leads them away from their parents. But it also works as a conceit in and of itself because of the unique challenges it poses to Hana, and because of the places it takes the narrative and the opportunity it gives Hosoda to speak to the importance of acceptance, both of others and of our true selves.
fabulously atmospheric but derelict old house and sets about trying to make a life for her family at the fringes of society. The locals are understandably skeptical, and have seen city folk pack it in and quit on numerous occasions, but there's something in Hana's determination that catches the eye of Nirasaki (Sugawara Bunta) the curmudgeon who acts as a sort of unofficial elder statesman for the locals. When he finally gives his grudging help to Hana, who's failing miserably in trying to raise crops, it signals that she's a part of the community - an irony as she fled the city to try and keep Ame and Yuki away from potential discovery by others. Surrounded by people Hana was alone, and in the wilderness she's not - this is surely an intentional observation by Hosoda-sensei, who grew up in rural Japan before his career took him to Tokyo.
Ame (now played by Nishii Yukito) and Yuki (Kuroki Haru, who also narrates) grow to school age, it appears that Yuki will be the one who embraces the lupine side of her heritage. She's bold and fearless, forever restless and forever exploring. Ame, by contrast, is a shy and withdrawn boy who seems both afraid of his wolf lineage and of the way wolves are feared and vilified by humans, and mostly wants to stay close to his mother. But Yuki also desires to explore her human side by going to school, and resolves to blend in - which she does with mixed success until an encounter with transfer student Souhei (an excellent performance by 14 year-old Takuma Hiraoka) leaves him seriously injured and Yuki abashed and humiliated. Meanwhile Ame's perspective clearly changes based on specific moments in his life. An impulsive attempt to hunt a kingfisher on that snowy morning. A lonely old timber wolf caged at the nature park where his mother takes a job for a pittance of a salary. And an encounter with a wild creature who, like Ame himself, is much more than it appears to the eye.
Yuki learns the terrifying reality of this). Perhaps the message here is that every child is unique, and so is the path they must walk.
what he's telling her about his feelings for her - and I think it's very clear that she does. It's an unconventional ending and a difficult one, bittersweet to be certain, but probably the only possible one Hosoda could have written.