[REVIEW] ‘A Whisker Away’ or Cats are Cute Especially in Anime

With the closure of theaters from the COVID19 virus many of us have turned to Netflix and other streaming services for new films in 2020. This has brought movies like Extraction, Bad Education, and Palm Springs to the world’s attention. However, one aspect of Netflix’s lineup not given enough credit is their incredible anime selection. Whether series or films they have a large selection of original and curated anime films ready for the viewer to enjoy.

One new offering is from directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama called Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu or in English A Whisker Away. This is a shame because Whisker is an adorable film the entire family will enjoy.

A Whisker Away tells the story of Miyo an unhappy young girl who struggles to fit in with her peers and doesn’t get along with her family well especially her stepmother. She does, however, love to daydream about her crush fellow schoolmate Hinode. One day she finds a mask that turns her into a cat and as a cat she’s able to spend more time with her crush but of course blissful cat-dom can’t last forever and things get complicated.

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First of all, Miyo as the cat Taro is so cute. Her bright blue eyes and white fur will charm even the most hardened of cat haters! Miyo is also a character we can all relate to with her insecurities and a fear of rejection we all face especially as teenagers. The longer she stays a cat the harder it is for her to become human again and the decision is harder for her than you might think.

I also enjoyed the world building and magic of A Whisker Away. The script is difficult to predict what is going to happen and the magic is both delightful and scary at the same time. It is definitely reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns so if you like that film you will definitely like this.

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The writer Mari Okada also wrote Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which I found to be very underrated from 2018. She is great at capturing emotion in her writing and helping you connect with the characters. She directed Maquia and has another film Her Blue Sky that she wrote which I hope gets a US release because I love her writing.

As far as criticisms of A Whisker Away sometimes the villain Kinako was a little much and distracted from the more interesting coming of age elements with Miyo deciding what she wants out of her life.

Still if you are looking for a hidden gem on Netflix A Whisker Away is a good one!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 54: ‘Wolf Children’ Review

In the world of anime fans it’s actually kind of a scandal that I haven’t seen Mamoru Hosoda’s masterpiece Wolf Children. I love Hosoda so I’m not sure why I put off seeing it but now that I have I’m delighted to tell you all that it lives up to the hype. It’s not a loud movie but it is one of the most beautiful depictions of motherhood I’ve seen.

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Wolf Children tells the story of a woman named Hana who falls in love with a mysterious man while in attending college. Eventually she finds out the man is a wolfman, but not the man-eating variety we see in horror movies. Hanna and the man end up having 2 children, Yuki and Ame who share the wolfman traits of their father.

When the man dies Hana must figure out how to not only be a young single Mother of 2 but also raise 2 children that are of a different species from her own- one that she and everyone around her is entirely unfamiliar with. She ends up moving to the country to keep them safe and learning how to farm and teach her children how to manage both sides of themselves.

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What’s also interesting is the different trajectories of the children. Yuki wants to live as a human being. She goes to school, makes friends, and is able to hold her wolf side in with the help of a little song her Mom made up. On the other hand, Ame is drawn to the wolf side especially after he becomes friends with a wolf named Sohei.

If you are watching Wolf Children looking for a big narrative or strong action you will be disappointed. It’s a simple film about the every day life of our 3 lead characters. We get to know them and become invested in their journeys. The animation is absolutely stunning- right up there with the best of Studio Ghibli. The sound design is also very impressive with the lushness of nature coming to life before our eyes. It really helps us become immersed in the story.

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But mostly Wolf Children is a beautiful story about the power of a Mother’s love to save her children. Even if they are of different species that love is powerful and that says a lot. I don’t think you have to be a big anime fan to enjoy this film. If you have a mother, are a mother or long to be a mother you will be moved by this touching story. I highly recommend it.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Blind Spot 48: ‘Tokyo Godfathers’

Anyone who follows my content knows I watch a lot of Christmas movies. This can make it difficult to find a good Blind Spot pick for December. However, I have long wanted to see the anime classic Tokyo Godfathers, so it became an easy pick for this month’s selection. Tokyo Godfathers is directed by master animator Satoshi Kon based on the novel by Peter B Kyne entitled Three Godfathers.

There are a lot of reasons why this film works, but I think at the heart is an emotional resonance we connect with. I’d wager to say the 3 main characters Gin, Hana and Miyuki are living wildly different lives than most of us; however, their responses to pain, joy, fear etc come from a truthful place we can all relate with.

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The story begins when our homeless trio finds a baby thrown into the trash on Christmas Eve. Ex-drag queen Hana is particularly excited to help the baby who they name Kiyoko. I loved Hana’s energy, which is always tinged with a bit of melancholy. She reminds me a little bit of Agrado in Pedro Almodóvar’s film All About My Mother. They both are transgender and homeless, yet full of life and energy.

Tough talking Gin helps ground the group and young teen Miyuki is a more of a nurturing presence. They are an unlikely group but one who’s story I was always invested in. The 3 friends set out to find Kiyoko’s parents and face all kinds of resistance along the way. Sometimes the shenanigans are a little too much but for the most part I was very engaged.

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Aside from the day it is set on, Tokyo Godfathers might not seem like much of a Christmas movie. There are no presents, Christmas trees, Santa etc. However, it absolutely gets to the core of Christmas. Each of our 3 characters is sacrificing to help Kiyoko who would have certainly died in the trash without them. Is this not the heart of what pure Christianity aka Christmas teaches?

There’s also a sense of wish fulfillment with this journey. Hana gets to live a day as a mother. Gin gets to be the hero he isn’t to his own children. Miyuki gets to be a part of a loving family unit. These are people who aren’t valued by society but to this baby they are invaluable. It reminded me a lot of both Parasite and last year’s Shoplifters in many ways.

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Tokyo Godfathers, however, is not a morose film. It actually can be quite hopeful and even funny. Like I said, especially Hana is a bright light in a difficult world. I loved the way Satoshi animated her big smile and exuberant responses to everything. It made me smile.

I loved all of the animation. Satoshi does such a good job of developing a sense of place with rich colors of brown, red and green. At one point a character is at her breaking point and there is such a piercing quality to her eyes that anyone who has had a mental health crisis will understand. It’s quite devastating (especially when compared with Hana’s bright energy).

I did struggle a little bit in Tokyo Godfathers to keep up with the subtitles but that is probably my own flaw more than the movie. There are some pretty fast-paced scenes of dialogue! But if you are looking for something different to watch at Christmas or just a unique animated film any time of the year I recommend it for anyone middle school and up. I really enjoyed it (rated pg13)!

In August I got to review Satoshi Kon’s other masterpiece Millennium  Actress over at rotoscopers.com. Check the review out here

 

Blind Spot 46: ‘Cowboy Bebop: The Movie’

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One of the difficult things about reviewing anime as a movie critic is so many of the films require investment into their accompanying series. Some like My Hero Academia Movie try to get you up to date on what is happening and others just throw you into the fire and hope you can figure it all out. Now, in my recent Downton Abbey review I said I didn’t think it was the job of the movie to please non-fans of the show. I’m fine with a film having a narrow audience; however, it does put me in a bit of a tough situation when I an admitted bystander doesn’t like the end product. Do I toss it up to not being in the intended audience or do I  review it for the problems it has? It’s a tough dilemma but in the end I can’t imagine what the intended audience will think. I can only know what I think and share my experience in my review.

This rather long-winded lead-in, is my way of saying: I did not like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. It clearly has lots of fans, and I respect that, but it didn’t work for me in some fundamental ways. Let me explain:

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Cowboy Bebop: The Movie tells the story of a group of bounty hunters that live on the planet Mars in 2071. They are hunting down a mysterious man in black named Vincent who is intent on destroying all of humanity (supervillains are so ambitious these days). The main characters are leader Spike Spiegel, femme fatale Faye Valentine, punk kid Ed, brooding Jet Black and super intelligent dog Ein. These are an eclectic group of characters (much like Guardians of the Galaxy), but I never felt like I got to know any of them very well. Plus, we spent a lot of time on stuff I didn’t care about like what type of microwave noodles they each liked.

I never got the sense they were developing a case to follow Vincent but instead they kept accidentally running into him which made the momentum drag. There is some cool animation and some violent action scenes but rarely was the futuristic setting used to its advantage. Most of the events could have been done in any modern situation on any planet. This made the world-building and scifi elements feel generic to nonexistent.

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Vincent is a cool character and his scenes are engaging, as his motivations are complex and troubling. I also really enjoyed how he was animated with the feel of an outlaw in an old-fashioned western. There are scenes some Johnny Cash tunes would have fit right in, which was a fun aesthetic.

Unfortunately a good villain can’t save a film. I found myself getting sleepy while watching Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and losing interest. The story is probably compelling for fans of the series but here in the film it felt pedestrian and bland. It was a lot of time of people sitting around, talking, mixed in with some enjoyable action, which isn’t enough to make a compelling movie for 2 hours (it’s at least 20 minutes too long).

The only reason I could recommend Cowboy Bebop: The Movie it’s one of the few anime films that has a lot of Halloween in it, which makes it an eclectic holiday choice. But even then it is more ornamentation than an actual interesting part of the plot. This movie just didn’t do it for me. It’s crazy how something with so many pieces can still feel so slow and bland? I’m sure some anime fans will be horrified by that statement but there it is.

Are you a fan of Cowboy Bebop? What do you think of this movie and should I watch the show before making a final judgement? Let me know what you think.

3.5 out of 10

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

I think like most people when I first heard of a live action Detective Pikachu movie I rolled my eyes. As an animation fan it can be very irritating when it seems like the great answer to updating a property is to abandon animation and make it live action (Disney I’m talking to you!). In addition most of the live action/animated hybrids have been terrible. With the exception of Paddington, it is usually a terrible idea to have a cg creature in the human world. Naturally we were all concerned and then the trailers came out and to my surprise the film looked pretty good. Ryan Reynolds looked funny and the world building with the pokemons looked adorable, so I went into seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu with pretty high expectations. Unfortunately I ended up with very mixed feelings on the film. It’s not a total loss but it could have been so much better!

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It’s movies like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu that make the binary system of rottentomatoes difficult because it does have many positives. First of all, the world-building is really strong. It kind of reminded me of Zootopia in the way the world was full of creatures and captured that crime-noir feel while still being kid-appropriate.

The design of all the pokémon was creative and adorable and will no doubt delight fans of the franchise (I have seen 2 Pokémon movies but would not consider myself a fan).

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Ryan Reynolds is great as the voice of Pikachu and Justice Smith does a serviceable job as our orphan looking into the strange death of his father. There is also a really nice heart to the film, and while inconsistent I did laugh a few times.

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The problem with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu lies with the script. At only 104 minutes it feels much longer and there are stretches where nothing seems to be happening but bland action and reveals that don’t amount to much story-wise. The mystery isn’t set up well because the villain is obvious from the start and the clues aren’t interesting to put together. Again to use Zootopia as an example, I was way more invested in the clues and mystery of that film than in Detective Pikachu.

It’s always hard for me to know what kids will like but I suspect a lot of them will get fidgety especially during the middle section of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. I know both my friend and I were struggling a little bit to stay invested. I’ve seen it many times before where the team behind a movie gets so caught up in world-building they forget to craft a script worthy of that world. Such is the case here. (There is some action such as fighting and a car crash depicted multiple times that might scare very little kids but nothing too bad content-wise).

But it’s not a disaster by any means. I would recommend seeing Pokémon: Detective Pikachu at a discount theater if you have one in your community. It’s got enough fun moments to justify a watch but I just wish the mystery had been handled better. Perhaps if they make a sequel they can improve upon that aspect? I’d definitely be interested in them taking another swing at it!

Smile Worthy (Just barely)

✮✮.5 out of 5

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Current Mini Reviews

Believe it or not there are other movies out in theaters besides Avengers: Endgame. I have already reviewed Missing Link and Breakthrough on this blog but I thought I would give you my quick reviews of 5 other films that might be worth your time to check out:

Penguin Highway

First up the anime film Penguin Highway. Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida this creative and original science fiction mystery will delight audiences of all ages and shouldn’t be missed. It reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Stranger Things with a young boy investigating the strange appearance of penguins in his town.

The relationship between the boy and a woman who comes along with the penguins is a little strange but if you like unpredictable, fresh storytelling you’ll love this film

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Penguins

I will eventually do a full review of Disneynature’s latest film Penguins for my Disneynature series on this blog but until then you should definitely check it out. The penguins are so cute especially our lead penguin Steve who is perpetually behind all the other penguins. It’s so cute!

Ed Helms does a good job as the narrator and kids will love seeing this little penguin romance. Some of the music cues were a little much for me but that’s a minor flaw in a very adorable nature film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Perfect Date

Netflix continues in its attempt to take over the romantic comedy world particularly for teenagers with The Perfect Date. Noah Centineo is super charming, and I’d be in love with him if I was 16. That’s really who this movie is made for, teenagers who want to swoon over Noah Centineo. There’s nothing wrong with that but the script needed work.

He’s charming but the story is so strained and there is no chemistry between him and either of the leading ladies. It also feels like a cheap copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without any of that movies emotional heft. If you’re not a 16 year old I’d say pass.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Okko’s Inn

Penguin Highway isn’t the only new anime we’ve gotten this month. We’ve also gotten the sweet ghost story Okko’s Inn. Based on a series of mangas, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a little girl who goes to live with her Grandma at an Inn after her parents die. She soon learns the Inn is inhabited by a series of mischievous ghosts who want to get her into trouble.

Okko’s Inn feels very episodic and is definitely made for very small children. Adults may find it a little cloying but its heart was in the right place so I enjoyed it. If you want to talk to your kids about grief and how to set goals (Okko decides to become a junior Innkeeper) than this would be a fun one to show them.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Long Shot

About 30 minutes into the new romantic comedy Long Shot I was groaning pretty loudly inside. The characters were annoying me and it seemed like the most tired of tropes to have the gorgeous blonde bombshell fall for the schlep who can’t seem to understand you don’t wear a hideous windbreaker to a swanky party. Ugh.

BUT…then something happened and it started to win me over. I think the key point is when they actually start a relationship is where it begins to work. The build up I was irritated but the actual balance of a liberal writer dating the secretary of state started to entertain me. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron have decent enough chemistry but it’s the script that makes it all work. The commentary on feminism, work, politics and dating feels believable and is very funny. I particularly thought the ending in all its romcom glory is earned.

O’Shea Jackson as Rogen’s best friend stole the show. Hilarious.

This is an R rated film with lots of language and some sexuality so be forewarned.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 35: Whisper of the Heart

This month’s blind spot pick marks a big accomplishment in my animation blogging career: I have now seen every Studio Ghibli film! I’ve even seen the obscure 2 shorts Panda! Go, Panda! (adorable btw). This month’s entry Whisper of the Heart is my final film to check off the list and fortunately it marks another solid entry from the studio. Not my favorites but perfectly amiable animated film with some great messaging.

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Whisper of the Heart is by one-time only director Yoshifumi Kondō. It also marks the only Studio Ghibli film to have a spin-off or sequel. Covered earlier this year, The Cat Returns is about a minor character in a fantasy story that the lead character Shizuku writes.

In the movie Shizuku is a 14 year old who loves reading and writing. She loves going to the library but she starts to notice that all of the books she is checking out have already been read by a boy named Seiji. What she doesn’t know is Seiji is a young man who she is annoyed with and has to work on a school project with singing ‘Country Road, Take Me Home’ by John Denver.

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Seiji is learning to make violins and even goes to Italy to study under a master. Meanwhile Shizuku spends time with Seiji’s grandfather Nishi, who owns an antique store. He shows her the statue of the cat Baron and she decides to pursue her dreams of writing.

The romance between Seiji and Shizuku plays out like a classic romantic comedy, which I really enjoyed. I also thought the sequences with the fantasy story with the Baron were a lot of fun. As a big fan of homeschool, I also like that Shizuku decided when she wanted to focus on her writing and when she wanted to attend the public high school.

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The animation is nice and it feels like a Miyazaki movie with a young heroine, trips to Italy, flying sequences and talking cats, so you can’t go wrong there. I also enjoyed the music and overall it’s a fun little movie.

I guess what keeps it from being a favorite is at nearly 2 hours it feels a little drawn out for the plot. It would have been a little better at the 90-100 minute mark and some might find it boring.

Aside from that I would definitely recommend Whisper of the Heart. Watch it and then watch The Cat Returns and you will be delighted!

Smile Worthy

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So there you have it! My last Studio Ghibli film to watch. What other anime films would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section.

Current Mini Reviews

So I must admit I have been on a bit of a role lately! I not only have been making podcasts I love on both of my channels (Hallmarkies and Rachel’s Reviews) but I have been able to see a lot of movies (I’ve done several double-headers). Some I have reviewed on my channel (and some on this blog) but others I haven’t gotten around to covering. So that means it’s time for my Current Mini Reviews update! I will let give my brief thoughts, whether it is smile/frown worthy and where it lists in my 2018 Releases Ranking. Enjoy!

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Life of the Party

I seem to be one of the few who hasn’t grown tired of Melissa McCarthy’s shtick (I even enjoyed Ghostbusters!).  Now we have Life of the Party and it wasn’t the greatest comedy but it was serviceable. I laughed enough to enjoy myself and the supporting cast is strong including Maya Rudolph, Gillian Jacobs and Molly Gordon who plays McCarthy’s daughter. Luke Benward is very hunky as McCarthy’s boy-fling.

Smile Worthy (barely)

51 out of 71

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

This franchise has produced 3 entertaining if a bit unmemorable films and that includes Hotel Transylvania 3. It was an enjoyable sit with some nice animation and good laughs. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Pixar but it had a sweet message to it.  I think this is an improvement over HT2 which didn’t use its ensemble cast very well.

Smile Worthy

19 out of 71

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Gotti

With a 0% on rottentomatoes and moviepass making it basically free I couldn’t resist watching this trainwreck. And trainwreck it is. Pretty much everything is off in this biopic but the most absurd part is they try to paint the mafia as a persecuted minority that the cops are hounding unfairly. There’s even a title card at the end explaining the efforts the FBI went to take them down and the FBI is the villain!

Frown Worthy

69 out of 71

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Hearts Beat Loud

I think this might have been oversold to me as ‘the next Sing Street‘. Hearts Beat Loud isn’t a bad movie but I left feeling underwhelmed. The performances are nice and a couple of the songs decent but I was never emotionally engaged with the main relationship between the father and the daughter. Both my friend and I agreed that it felt cursory when they could have dove deeper and asked more questions. The only emotion I felt was between the daughter and her girlfriend. Sing Street it is not. I honestly found it kind of boring…

Frown Worthy (barely)

52 out of 71

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Set It Up

Since everyone knows I love romcoms I was told by many to check out this Netflix entry in the genre. My response was it was ok. I liked the lead couple Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell and they had decent chemistry. Lucy Liu is also good as an ice queen boss that gets more character development than the trope typically allows. However, I found the movie to be a bit too cynical for my taste. I like my romances to be a little more light and fluffy.

Smile Worthy (barely)

50 out of 71

Maquia

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

Very sweet fantasy anime that is about an immortal woman’s struggles to be a mother and watch her mortal child grow up and suffer. The animation was stunning, and I got very wrapped up in it. It has some pacing issues but over all I definitely recommend it. Director Mari Okada has made a fantasy film that is ambitious in its world building and lovely in its emotional depth. Fantasy fans, not just anime fans will really enjoy it.

Smile Worthy

12 out of 71

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Whitney

I love Whitney Houston and was so sad to see her life spiral out of control leading to her eventual death. So naturally I was interested in this documentary and it’s mostly satisfactory. Director Kevin Macdonald does a good job showing all sides to the singer and her impact on music and pop culture. However, there are a few things that felt a little exploitative to me and his attempts to tie Whitney’s life into broader world events felt a little heavy handed. Still worth checking out. Bring tissues.

Smile Worthy

39 out of 71

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Ant-Man and the Wasp-

I really enjoyed the first Ant-Man. I think more than most, so I was excited for this sequel and I left thinking it was just ok. The action is a lot of fun and the cast knocks it out of the park but it wasn’t as funny as the first one and several plot threads got a little boring for me. Still, it’s a decent superhero movie with some fun moments.

Smile Worthy

23 out of 71

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Skyscraper-

This was more entertaining than I expected it to be. There are some entertaining action set pieces like a fight that happens in a room with mirrors. Also I liked that Nev Campbell’s character wasn’t a cliched warrior woman or damsel in distress but just a smart Mom. I’m not sure why they needed him to have an artificial leg except for one kind of gimmicky scene.
The villain characters were very snoozeworthy with lame motivation. Still, if looking for summer entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously you could do worse.

Smile Worthy

35 out of 71

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Fireworks-

With the marketing heavily leaning on the ‘producer of Your Name’ I wondered if this would be a disappointment. It didn’t seem to have much to sell of itself but just its similarities to a beloved film. Sadly my worries were correct. Fireworks does have some good things but for each good aspect there was a negative. Some of the animation was beautiful and then others used CG in really terrible ways. Some character moments were sweet and others felt really cheesy. Some parts of the story worked and other parts felt very muddled and confusing. There’s a sexuality in the character design and story that was strange.

Frown Worthy

61 out of 71

 

 

Blind Spot 28: The Cat Returns

When I announced my 2018 Blind Spot picks I was planning on reviewing one of the last Studio Ghibli films for me to check off my list, The Cat Returns, in June but it ended up being the Studio Ghibli Fest selection for April, so I am swapping my picks and will review The Green Mile in June instead of April. (On a side note, if you aren’t seeing the Studio Ghibli Fest films you totally should! It’s an amazing opportunity to see these anime films on the big screen).

So what did I think of The Cat Returns after seeing it on the big screen? Well, while not the greatest Studio Ghibli film by any measure, I was thoroughly entertained by the creative and strange story of a young girl and her adventures in a world of cats.

The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita and is his only feature for Studio Ghibli . It is evidently based on a manga and is a pretty strange story. Like many Ghibli films, it focuses on a young girl as the lead character. Her name is Haru and one day she saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Unbeknownst to her she has rescued Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In an effort to repay her she is taken to marry Lune, and she even starts to develop cat-like qualities such as whiskers and a tail.

Fortunately there are two cats who come to her defense and help her find a way out of the Cat Kingdom before it is too late: a suave debonair cat named the Baron (also featured in Whisper of the Heart evidently) and an overweight white cat named Muta.

These characters were a lot of fun. I thought the Baron had a bit of a Sherlock Holmes vibe to him. He is cocky, not very self-aware and loves to make a special kind of tea. Muta is a curmudgeon who gets a lot of the comic relief of the film.

The Cat Returns is definitely an odd film, but I found the world-building to be very unpredictable in an appealing way. It is also witty and unlike some Ghibli films, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is just a strange, comic fantasy, and I enjoyed it on that level. At 75 minutes it also doesn’t outstay its welcome and become boring.

The music by Yuji Nomi almost seemed too orchestral and grand for such a silly story but it is beautiful. The animation is of course great, and I loved the way the characters moved and flowed through scenes. Plus, there is something cute about all these cats!

It doesn’t have the emotional complexity that the great Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke have, but I still enjoyed The Cat Returns. It’s a fun little creative, strange romp through a world of cats! It kind of reminded me of Porco Rosso in a way- a comedy with anthropomorphic animals/human merging in together in unusual ways.

I did see it with the English dub that has Anne Hathaway playing Haru, Cary Elwes as the Baron and Peter Boyle as Muta. They all do a good job and are perfectly fine in their roles.

Overall Grade- B

Only one more Studio Ghibli film for me to see (Whisper of the Heart) and I will be finished their entire canon!

What do you think of The Cat Returns?