Why does Japan love wolves
by Sindy Hildebrand
"One, two, three, rays, I promised." With this magic spell, Hana tries to let her two extraordinary children Ame and Yuki keep a shared secret that her father was not allowed to tell anyone. With the anime film Ame & Yuki Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda presents a fairytale story that is recommended for viewers from the age of thirteen.
The Tokyo student Hana falls in love with a reserved young man who is the descendant of the Japanese wolf, which has been extinct for a hundred years. The girl Yuki and Ame, who is one year younger than her, emerge from their great love, both of whom have the fatherly ability to change shape: small ears, four paws and a tail become visible when they are particularly excited. But the family happiness does not last long, her father is tragically killed. Hana has to raise wolverine and tomboy Yuki as well as the sensitive and calm Ame alone. In doing so, she reaches the limits of her strength and her secret. "Tell me, you two, how do you want to live? As a person? Or as a wolf?", She asks her children and decides to move with them to the country to avoid the curious and suspicious looks of the city dwellers. With great effort and privation, but with the help and sympathy of the rural residents, the family can happily cope with everyday life and live carefree in the vastness of nature on fertile soil. In the beginning, Yuki, in contrast to Ame, loves to chase after everything that crawls, hisses and hisses in wolf form. By the time she starts school, she takes more pleasure in the lives of her human friends and wants to be recognized as a 'girly' girl. Her brother, on the other hand, only goes to school sporadically, more and more often he is drawn to the mountains as a wolf, whose flora and fauna he gets to know very well through his teacher - a fox. Days full of heavy rain and storms make Ame worry about him and so he leaves the family house for the forest. In the desperate search for her son, Hana realizes which paths mean a happy life for Ame, Yuki and she.
The anime film Ame & Yuki is designed as a review of the life of Hana and her two wolf children, narrated by the youthful Yuki herself, who opens and closes the story of her extraordinary family as a voice over. In places she explains or sums up the experiences, experiences and feelings of her parents, her brother and herself in the course of the film, which are just as vividly illustrated by dialogue scenes, panorama pictures, fast-moving sequences of scenes or soundless pictures. Narrator and character speeches are coherently interwoven with realistically detailed pictures as well as emotional to powerful piano and string music. Together they impressively convey the warm-hearted way Hanas dealt with her boyfriend, her children and the villagers, but also offer space for humorous secondary characters and situations.
The film sheds light on Ames and Yuki's turbulent path to finding their identity. This runs back and forth between being human and being a wolf until the age of thirteen, until the siblings find out in which form they would like to live through drastic experiences in civilization and nature. Her mother Hana, whose name symbolizes happiness, accompanies her with strength, patience and confidence, which she draws from her love for the wolfman, whom the family always knows to be with them even after his death. The story of the wolf children suggested by the title of the film is at the same time that of a single mother who approaches the new and the unknown openly and inquisitively and knows how to make a happy life possible for her family despite all the losses and hardships.
As in The girl who jumped through time (German first broadcast 2007) succeeds Mamoru Hosoda and his team in telling a story in terms of both plot and design that looks realistic and yet is finely pervaded by the fantastic. An assignment of the film to fantasy, drama and Slice of life-Genre therefore seems legitimate. The viewer has the impression that the wolf characters are quite naturally part of the realistically designed and narrated world, they never make the story seem inauthentic. The little wolves Yuki and Ame are delightful and are reminiscent of Kemonomimi , the morphing from (adult) human to wolf is implemented in a graphically believable way. It is gratifying that Hosoda is sketching a picture of the wolf that does not serve the widespread notion of a 'greedy, bad wolf' in the West. Rather, the behavior and speaking of the three shape-shifters point to positive characteristics: the wolf man lovingly takes care of the pregnant Hana and, later, of the babies they share; Yuki is bright and open-minded; Ame develops into a prudent and farsighted wolf; but all three can also be withdrawn and thoughtful, knowing that their hybrid identities arouse dislike and fear in many people. Japanese mythology ascribes a benevolent role to the wolf, as long as humans treat him with respect and loyality, as Hana does, who adopts the alterity of her boyfriend and her children without prejudice. She does everything she can to circumvent their social stigmatization and exclusion, which resonate in many western myths about the wolf. In Japan this is originally considered to be the guardian of the fields and livelihood of people, expeller of evil spirits, protector of the weak and expression of intact (mountain) nature, in which he knows how to hide well. Hence the belief that the wolf is not extinct after all .
In any case, the anime film reveals a close connection with nature. The clearly demarcated seasons typical for the Japanese archipelago are beautifully staged visually and musically, adding rhythm and emphasizing the narrated events. It is significant that the family moves from urban Tokyo to a wooded prefecture , where they can live exuberantly far away from villages and cultivate fields. In addition to atmospheric, magical images of nature, Ames symbolizes responsibility for the forest and its inhabitants, a deeply felt love for nature. Not to be forgotten are the names of the protagonists, which suggest a nature-loving life: Yuki means snow, Ame Regen, Hana Blume and the wolfman, who comes from the mountains, is called Ōkami in the original Japanese version. It can be read as 'wolf' or 'deity'. With reference to nature, both meanings come together in the mountain deity (yama no kami), who shows himself to man in the form of a wolf and is committed to his protection. In spite of his untimely death, the father fulfills this function in addition to Hana. A small house altar with his picture and always fresh flowers as well as Hana's dreams keep him always present in the life of the family and in the film. In the end, Ame also takes on this task in this world, as he feels determined to watch over his family and the mountain nature. But the sadness that the worried young mother feels about it turns into bliss, as the self-development of her children means happiness for them too. Ame & Yuki reveals not only the unconditional love of a mother, but also the message to find yourself and to follow your destiny in order to be able to live happily ever after.
By means of an unobtrusive narrator's voice, economical but meaningful dialogues as well as impressive images and coherent sound design Ame & Yuki - The Wolf Children To tell the story of an extraordinary family far away from any kitsch. Their handling of loss and privation, their search for recognition and self-determination fill the viewer with both sadness and happiness. For this little masterpiece, which is also available as a three-volume manga of the same name, Mamoru Hosoda rightly received its third Japanese Academy Award in 2013 in the category 'Best Animated Film'. The German distributor releases the film from the age of six, probably because of the pretty character design. The topics of self-discovery and hybrid identity, which not only affect young people, as well as the role of the strong mother Hana, however, only become really conscious and tangible in later years of life. In this regard, the film is recommended from the age of thirteen at the earliest.
 Kemonomimi are figures that have individual characteristics of animals (ears, tails, etc.).
 Cf. Knight, John (1997): "On the Extinction of the Japanese Wolf", in: Asian Folklore Studies (56) No. 1, pp. 129-159.
 The template for this is Hosoda's natal Toyama prefecture, which has many pristine lakes, gorges and mountains. See audio commentary on the DVD Ame & Yuki - Wolfskinder, distributed by KAZÉ ANIME / VIZ MEDIA Switzerland SA (2013).
First published: November 16, 2016
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