Innocence / Evolution

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Innocence is a coming-of-age mystery film by writer-director Lucile Hadzihalilovic. At an unsettling all-girls boarding school, a new girl, Iris, is born from a coffin that arrives. Each girl has a distinctly colored hair ribbon that’s passed down to the next youngest in line. Since Iris is now the youngest occupant, she receives the red ribbon. The eldest, Bianca, receives a special purple ribbon from someone who’s no longer there. Iris grows fond of Bianca, and has a lot of questions: Will they receive visitors? Why can’t they leave? Where does Bianca go at night? What’s beyond the wall that surrounds the grounds? Where are they?

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Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s follow-up film, Evolution, also has an opening scene where we see someone, through their eyes, submerged in water. Like Innocence, the story is told primarily from the perspective of children, and the adults are suspiciously aloof. While out swimming against his mother’s wishes, Nicolas finds the body of a dead boy. He reports this to his mother, and she tells him that he didn’t see what he saw. At home, she feeds him an ugly green food, and gives him a strange medicine to drink each night. Nicolas’ life parallels the lives of the other boys in a lonely seaside town.

Evolution wasn’t as ambiguous as Innocence, but both films shared a Lynch-ian creepiness with Malick-ian montages through nature. If I had to guess, Innocence is about womanhood, and Evolution is about parenthood.

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Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories. What’s less familiar is for these stories to extend beyond the relationship, and detail the hardships of raising “half breed” children in a prejudiced society. This is what sets Wolf Children apart from the rest of the pack.

On the surface, such a premise may seem difficult to buy into, but Wolf Children works beautifully thanks to the writer/director, Mamoru Hosoda, opting to tell this story as a coming-of-age drama. He balances the tension with delightful humor, embodied by characters who endure hardships we can relate with and take seriously.

Hana is the quintessential selfless mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and children. When she has time to herself, she spends it quietly and alone. It’s heartwarming how helping others seems to drive her, but it’s also kinda sad how little she does for herself. While watching this movie, there were times I wished I could take Hana out for pizza or karaoke. My own sensitivities may be more of the issue here. Perhaps providing for her family is enough?

Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud; Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more feminine, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the funner character, more screen time is spent on her, and, consequently, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels a little abrupt.

Visually, Wolf Children is super clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and the animation is generously in-betweened. The designs fall closer to the realistic side of the 2D animation spectrum. Background characters are 3D cel-shaded, and generally mesh well with the subtle details of the background art. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings.

Wolf Children aspires to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. There are some aspects that could be nitpicked, but, frankly, the negatives I mention in this review should probably just be disregarded; they aren’t that important. Regardless of any supposed drawbacks, the general experience is undoubtedly powerful.