Educate To Life - Montessori Notes

Wolf Children - A parent's look at the movie

No Harry Potter nor the best Disney movie can beat the masterpieces of Japanese animation.
Montessori doesn't mean watching zero TV or just watch documentaries. Let's be realistic. How reductive would that be?
We read many fiction books, we watch some fantasy. We choose.
Cinema is a form of art and I hope my girls will find joy and inspiration in good quality movies as they find it in good books.
You may imagine the reasons why I mostly stay away from Disney movies. They are filled with racist and gender stereotypes, monarchs, dead parents and 'empty' magic (wands, magic powers & co).
Although Disney has undoubtedly tried to move away from that,  I always feel that they are trying to catch up with the world and with the changes happening in societies. 
Don't get me wrong, we've seen Frozen (1 and 2), Moana and Brave (that's it) and don't find them particularly harmful, but I wouldn't define them nurturing products for kids.

When I watch an anime film by Miyazaki, Hosoda, or Yonebaiashi, I see a vision for the future. I feel poetry and enchantment. I also see plenty of reality.

I mean can you imagine Elsa breastfeeding, baby wearing and loading the washing machine?
Anime mostly draw from contemporary Japanese culture (although some are also set in Europe) and they are filled with real-life details, which often largely compensate for the fantasy element.

The characters wear regular outfits and live in regular homes (humble homes or design homes), with steamy  kitchens full of pans, tools, yummy foods. We see them eating yakitori and hot noodles, working on a very recognisable kind of laptop). With clever hands, adults as well as adolescents are busy participating in house chores, filling up beautiful bento boxes for the day. All ages are represented: elderly, adults, young adults and children, babies, all living together and interconnected. Worklife, school life, family life, it's all there.
Wolf Children is a hauntingly beautiful coming of age story. Neither the movie nor the manga need to be promoted, but I decided to talk about them here because you may not be familiar with these stories (if you are a parent of young children living in Europe, you may not) or maybe you don't think you can take a break from your Disney+ subscription to go back to your dear old DVD player, or read manga to your 6 year old instead of just chapter books.

Although recently Netflix acquired a few titles, many anime films are in fact only available to buy in DVD and Blu-ray. 
Such a pain, I hear you say:)

But think: just like you mindfully look up for a good book, leaf it through to check if it's suitable and buy it, then display it in your home library, take it from the shelf and read it, the same way you purchase a DVD, put it on for a family Sunday movie afternoon, and then take it out, put it back and see it again. 
Talk about it. Watching a movie should always be done together, it's safest and children typically need parental help to understand and digest some of the information in the movie.

With DVDs there is no zapping around in the terrible kids catalogue on Netflix with your children pointing at the ugliest, dumbest series out there (sorry Netflix). 
Loading a DVD (and going to the cinema) encourages children to enjoy movies with awareness, cutting out on that feeling of infinite choice that online streaming gives, and forces parents to do their homework and do some research, before showing a movie to their children.
Released in 2013, Wolf Children 
tells the story of Hana, a university student from Tokyo who meets and falls in love with a wolf man, the last descendant of the species in Japan.
The two have two children, Yuki and Ame, two wolf children. 

When the man dies, run over by a car while hunting for food in the city in the middle of the night, Hana is left alone providing for a baby and a toddler. Exhausted and without any money she decides to move to a remote village in the countryside, as close to wilderness as possible, to raise the children away from people's eyes and to give them the chance to choose what they want to be.
As the children grow up along the fine line that separates humans and animals, Hana learns how to parent with unwavering love and acceptance.

Wolf children is a thirteen-year journey of initiation into adolescence, thirteen long years from the time Ame and Yuki are born to when they are grown into young adults.
Hosoda beautifully illustrates the nonlinear journey of parenthood, as well as our forgotten bond with wilderness.

There are multiple themes in the film, some of which recur in Japanese literature: 

- Man vs Beast: the fantasy element in the story is given by the ability of the characters to transform into wolves. 
But transformism is nothing but the narrative device to bring man and animal closer together in an irreverent as well as romantic way. Actually, when we see Ame and Yuki as toddlers playing rough on all fours and throwing tantrums with their pointy ears and tails, nothing could seem more natural/normal. 
Children often 'look like' cubs, they are human beings in whom the natural instinct and the bond with our animal nature are more evident.
Because of this childhood is often celebrated and cherished in anime films.
- City life vs Country life: the escape to the countryside is a recurrent theme in anime. Silence, toy-free play and long bike rides in the rice fields: the country is the place for childhood and for adults to achieve their potential and more authentic human relationships, thus finding their place in the world. 
The countryside is not some idyllic retreat though: living the country life means hard work, old homes needing maintenance and cultivating the land. 
- Wilderness: the return to nature, conservation and re-wilding are at the heart of the story. Wolf Children is well away from being a story about humans raised in the wild, it's the story of human beings choosing wilderness, which is therefore given equal dignity as civilisation.
- Motherhood:  Hana embraces parenthood with humility, respect and dedication. Her love is complete and unwavering. Her journey as a parent and human being through adulthood is closely interconnected to that of her children, as they develop and accept each other's identity. 
She models a type of parent-child relationship that's comforting and inspiring for the child watching the movie. 

- Lifecycles: like in other anime, the passing of time and intergenerational relationships are key to the narrative. The characters grow and evolve within the duration of the story, as opposed for example to many Disney heroes who are represented going from childhood to adulthood with little or no change.

Wolf Children is a triumph of emotions and ideas that work in concert, sustained and amplified by a beautiful soundtrack.

I have read the comic version with my 6 year old daughter after watching the movie several times. This helped her deal with the format, which doesn't entirely suit read aloud of course. Knowing the story beforehand and having loved the characters she was able to really enjoy the reading.

If you decide to see the movie after this reading this review, I'd love to hear what you think!

Wolf Children [2013]
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Produced by Studio chizu
Manga art by YU
Published by Yen Press 
Reading age: 9+ (independent reading)
Themes: Mother, Nature, Animals, Wilderness


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