Saturday, November 16, 2013

Anime Review: The Cat Returns

THE CAT RETURNS: This is very different compared to other Studio Ghibli films -- for the better

One day, Haru saves a cat from being hit by a truck. It turns out that the cat is the prince of the Cat Kingdom. On hearing the news of Haru’s heroic deed, the king personally expresses his gratitude by giving her gifts and whatnots. Haru thinks that the cats are going a little overboard. But the king is just too persistent, persistent enough to force her to be the princess.

This is a Studio Ghibli film by Hiroyuki Morita. What I really like about Hiroyuki Morita is that he shows the mundane in everyday things, creating a surreal atmosphere. The overall impression is very different compared to Hayao Miyazaki’s works. This difference is a good thing by the way. It gives variety to Studio Ghibli.

The first half of the film is the best example on how Morita incorporates the weird with the ordinary. We get to see talking cats in the streets, and the people don’t even know that they could talk. The fantasy just blends well with the regular life. The style reminds me of the books by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The second half of the film gives us a full-on fantasy however.

Comparing it to other Studio Ghibli films, the story structure of The Cat Returns also stands out. It is very direct. The girl saves the prince. The king expresses his gratitude and then goes a little overboard. Then the girl tries to escape. That’s it. It doesn’t have subplots that could drive the story to different directions. I’m not saying that having subplots is bad. I’m just saying that the storytelling of The Cat Returns is very straightforward, and it’s a breath of fresh air after watching Hayao Miyazaki films in a row.

There are a couple of mysteries in the story too, and they add some flavour to the direct storytelling. There are also a few minor conflicts here and there, and they are often associated with comedy; this makes the film a light-hearted one overall.

Another thing I like is the characterization. Each prominent character leaves an impression. Each is very distinct. Haru is your typical, laid-back high school girl. Baron is probably the coolest cat in fiction next to the Cheshire cat. Muta and his grumpiness is also fun to watch.

The art is also admirable. It is not very detailed but not very bland to be considered uninspired either. It’s somewhat similar to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Also, the overall colour of the film is a bit washed out, giving it a unique atmosphere. As for the music, I’m afraid I couldn’t remember much about it. I was too entertained with the story, the art, and the characters to give it particular attention. The only vague thing I can assure you is that it’s not bad. I just don’t remember it being good either.

Overall, The Cat Returns is a really good Studio Ghibli film. The storytelling and the art style is very fresh for those who are used to the usual styles of Hayao Miyazaki. The story, even though it’s very direct, also has a deeper level to it. Its underlying messages of ‘being yourself’ is the best proof of that.

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  1. Having now seen two of Miyazaki's films, Nausicaa and Mononoke, I am very more interested in any of Studio Ghibli films, and I will eventually to around to watching this one. Just from the pictures you have posted, I like the different artstyle compared to Studio Ghibli's other work. Thanks for recommending his work, I will try and comment with more of my thoughts of each of those films tomorrow hopefully.


    1. Glad you're enjoying them! I think you should review the films in your blog too! But that's for you to decide. And yes, The Cat Returns is very different it terms of art style. And that just makes the experience better. It's refreshing.

    2. I definitely plan to review the films on my blog, as well as several anime series I have seen. Hopefully, within the next two weeks, I will post my review for NGE or Code Geass, and then some Studio Ghibli film reviews after that.