From the creators of the Academy Award winning SPIRITED AWAY (Best Animated Feature Film, 2002) comes the visually stunning THE CAT RETURNS.
Haru, a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. The Cat King rewards her good deed with a flurry of presents, including a very shocking proposal of marriage to his son! Haru embarks on an unexpected journey to the Kingdom of Cats where her eyes are opened to a whole other world and her destiny is uncertain. To change her fate, she’ll need to learn to believe in herself and appreciate her everyday life.
THE CAT RETURNS is a magical animated adventure that will delight and inspire everyone.
Neko no ongaeshi 8.25
‘Neko no ongaeshi’ is a lovely adventure into an alternate world, a parallel one to our own but that is populated by cats. Our story begins with Haru, a relatively nondescript, regular girl who stumbles upon this feline world inadvertently by rescuing a cat prince from certain doom in the middle of a busy street.
In Haru, we find a very relatable character; she’s a teenager like many others who lives with her mother, has a hard time getting up for school, has a crush on a boy in school but remains largely unnoticed. She has a kind heart, so she is easy to like, and her fundamental decision-making makes her ensuing adventures quite logical, all things considered.
I say “all things considered” because much of what takes place isn’t necessarily realistic – after all, we are dealing with inexplicable, fantastical situations or even magic.
Having said this, it’s easy to suspend disbelief in an animated tale told in an unfamiliar language that mostly takes place in a fantasy world; by virtue of not being life-like, facing a linguistic barrier and offering unusual settings, one can quickly turn off the critical thinking function in the brain and simply enjoy the ride.
This isn’t too far removed from what children experience at a young age, and I believe that the effect is being reproduced adequately with this film. Actually, that is also one of the strengths of early Walt Disney animated films. So it’s not completely unconventional, but it is something I very rarely find – mostly in some Japanese anime, with a few notable exceptions such as ‘Les Triplette de Belleville’ or ‘La Prophétie des grenouilles’.
The simple but thoroughly enchanting tale in ‘Neko no ongaeshi’ was brought to us by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, as good a referral as any with regards to truly imaginative animation. While the film was not directed by Miyazaki himself, Hiroyuki Morita acquitted himself like a master, and it is quite surprising that it is the only film to his name thus far. ‘The Cat Returns’ is a well-conceived, cohesive whole, which is likely due in part to being based on a book – and books are often the best source material for cinematic works due to being fully fleshed out (unlike many scripts).
In the case of an animated film, of course, the technical know-how is also of prime importance, but Studio Ghibli are legendary and have offered us so many classics (Grave of the Fireflies, Howl’s Moving Castle, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, to name a few…), that it’s hardly surprising that this picture flows so effortlessly and that the style was unobtrusive – ‘The Cat Returns’ was made with consummate skill. And we’re talking about traditional 2D animation, here, proving that it’s truly not a dead art!
I found the character designs simple yet pleasing to the eye. This is not a movie trying to woo its audience with gimmicks, even as it offers sumptuous eye-candy galore – things that would break budgets in a live-action format. As can be expected from Studio Ghibli, it’s all in the finer details, in how they make everything appear real simply by considering the minutia. For instance, one such element that I dearly loved was that most of the cats who walked upright did so in a wobbly fashion that suggested that their legs and spine weren’t accustomed to it, that they hadn’t made the evolutionary leap quite yet. Nice touch.
But, ultimately, the story matters the most. And ‘The Cat Returns’ delivers on all counts: it serves us drama, romance, humour, adventure, fantasy, action and larger-than-life moments all in the context of a family-friendly film. And at an exciting but moderate pace, no less – unlike its ADD American brethren.
I was completely charmed with ‘Neko no ongaeshi’. It is nothing but pure magic, with no objectionable or lacklustre moments whatsoever. While it was likely geared towards younger audiences, this film is perfect for all the young-at-hearts; it has everything needed to leave them wide-eyed with excitement and awe.
Nota bene: I’ve since discovered that one of the key characters in this film, the Baron, was also featured in a previous Studio Ghibli film called ‘Whispers of the Heart’. One should expect that film will soon be high-tailed to the top of my list…