Stephen reviews: Wolf Children (2012)

wolfchildrenWolf Children [おおかみこどもの雨と雪 Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki] (2012)
AKA The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Starring Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki, Momoka Ono, Yukito Nishii, Amon Kabe, Takuma Hiraoka

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

Like Mamoru Hosoda’s other films, Wolf Children is a lighthearted, feel-good movie. It’s a movie that begs to be called “charming” and “heartwarming.” Even more so than his previous films, this is a story about family while still holding on to his usual themes of growing up. I usually prefer darker and more adult fare, but luckily for for me Hosoda excels at making these family-friendly stories engaging. He’s crafted a wonderful cast of characters that are easy to love and care about.

This time the story is focused less on growing up and more on raising children. Of course the two overlap, but in most coming-of-age stories the parents are off in the periphery. In Wolf Children the mother, Hana, is as much of a main character as anyone. The film follows her struggles to raise her two children, Ame and Yuki. The twist is that the kids’ father was half wolf, and so Ame and Yuki can change back and forth from human to wolf, leading to extra complications for Hana as she is also stuck raising the two children on her own.

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Stephen reviews: Summer Wars (2009)

Summer-Wars-PosterSummer Wars [サマーウォーズ Samā Wōzu] (2009)

Starring Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura, Sumiko Fuji, Ayumu Saito, Takahiro Yokokawa, Kiyomi Tanigawa, Mutsumi Sasaki, Mieko Nobusawa, Takuya Kirimoto, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

After the surprisingly enjoyable Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I was expecting something better from Mamoru Hosoda. Summer Wars isn’t bad, in fact I had a great deal of fun with the first half of it. Unfortunately the second half tapers off, and I found myself less than enthused with its conclusion.

Much of the film involves the virtual world of Oz. It is an online community where people hang out, play games, conduct business, and in general do anything that you might do online (Except look at porn. This film is rated PG, you know.). I’m not quite sure if Oz is a website on the Internet, or if it simply is the Internet in the world of this film. In any case, it’s a far more idealized version of the Internet than what we have in the real world. All languages are automatically translated on the fly. The user experience seems to be far closer to virtual reality, even to the point of having avatar martial arts tournaments. And of course, security is absolutely unbreachable, which leads to some of the major plot points in the film.

The plot revolves around Kenji and his classmate Natsuki. Using the simplest trick in the book, that of a pretty girl looking sad and bemoaning her fate, Natsuki suckers Kenji into helping her out over summer break. It seems that poor Kenji is doomed to drag Natsuki’s luggage around on a weekend trip to visit her grandmother. Once they arrive, however, Kenji finds out that her real plan is for him to pretend to be her boyfriend and impress her family. This could have been the starting point for any number of tragically ill-conceived romantic comedies, but fortunately the film takes a hard left turn at the next plot point, nearly abandoning the clumsy relationship of the two fake lovebirds.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Summer Wars (2009) →

Stephen reviews: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time [時をかける少女, Toki o Kakeru Shōjo] (2006)

Starring Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Sachie Hara, Mitsuki Tanimura

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda

If this were any other movie, discovering the power to time travel would start our protagonist on a great journey of superheroics. Maybe she would find some horrible crime that needed solving, or perhaps she would track down the X-Men and try to join the team, or if nothing else, she would become the villain of the piece. She would at least do something with her power. But when high school student Mokoto Konno finds out she can leap backwards in time, the first thing she does is head back to yesterday so she can eat her pudding before her sister steals it. This basically sums up much of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time as Mokoto uses her amazing new power for the most mundane circumstances.

The closest movie to compare this to might be Groundhog Day, but in that film reliving the same day over and over was a curse, while here Mokoto gleefully heads back to past moments to relive them or make them turn out better. She spends about ten hours straight at a karaoke bar leaping back whenever her time is up so she can start again. And when she comes home and finds that dinner isn’t the meal she was hoping for, it’s another quick hop to two nights before when they had her favorite.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) →

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