Anime / Animation, Films, Japan, Reviews

The Cat Returns

Not just immense fun for cat lovers, another gem – this is one for everyone to enjoy…

Hiroyuki Morita took the director’s chair on The Cat Returns, exploding with just as much passion and energy that you would expect from this unique studio. If you have had the pleasure of watching any other Ghibli work, especially Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) you will be expecting to be whisked away and lost in another magical dimension – and this is exactly where you will end up when watching The Cat Returns too.

Of course as this film directly follows the highly acclaimed Spirited Away (2001). Admittedly, it is hard to push the wonders of such a film to the back of your mind and embrace this next project. Many have said that the premise of this film is far too simplistic, originally intended as part of a Japanese theme park as a 20 minute short film previously known as ‘Cat Project’ back in 1999. After the theme park decided to cancel their deal with Ghibli, Morita ended up immediately taking a liking to the project resulting in a much lengthier version and of course Aoi Hiiragi’s manga short – Baron: The Cat Returns.

Due to Morita having illustrated such a clear vision through his drawings, Miyazaki and Isao Takahata handed the reigns over enabling the studio to produce an 80 minute feature based upon his extended development on the initial idea. Fairly short for one of Ghibli’s if you look at their track record and, yes, it is slightly less detailed than previous work, but certainly not lacking in imagination or originality. We see the return of some characters who have appeared in a previous film, Whispers of the Heart (1995) leading to certain hidden sub-plots to unravel and tie up on screen.

This charming and delightful story begins with an ordinary school girl, Haru rescuing a mysterious grey cat, a cat that can speak I might add and states that he will come back and thank her one day for saving him. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world full of talking cats? – Well let’s just say when he comes back to express his thanks her he throws quite the party. Upon finding herself automatically engaged to the cat prince, it is down to Baron a dashingly dressed cat statue that springs to life who we first encountered in Whisper of the Heart, to bring her back to the human world in order to stop her metamorphosing into a cat!

Along the way, and before Haru starts growing a fluffy tail and sprouting whiskers, the film delves into Haru’s highly un-inventive mind struggling with her own creativity and can hardly believe how she is imagining such a world as this. Apart from the quite scary thought of suddenly having feline features (although being a cat might have its perks) this really is a cheery, playful, almost innocent storyline outlining the importance of creativity. Much to be set apart from the more epic, deeper tales such as Tales from Earthsea (2006) and Pom Poko (1994) this is a humorous, weird and wonderful take on how a cat kingdom would appear and of course taking the form of something else in order to escape your immediate surroundings. An animation that is meant to be harmless family entertainment, to be enjoyed by all audiences in Japanese or English and will make you come away feeling upbeat and refreshed. A well deserved break from reality which one certainly needs from time to time.

The Cat Returns screens as part of a two month season dedicated to Studio Ghibli, starting this week at BFI Southbank, and is finally released on UK Blu-ray on 19 May 2014.

Home media details

Distributor: StudioCanal (formally Optimum Home Entertainment) (UK)

Edition: DVD (2005)

Not yet released in Blu-ray, the DVD has the option to watch it either in Japanese or with the English dubbed version.

About the author

Gloria Daniels-MossGloria Daniels-Moss Gloria Daniels-Moss
A former student and graduate of Canterbury Christ Church University where she had the pleasure to study English and most importantly Film! Her main love for Japanese Cinema comes from seeing Spirited Away when it was screened at Pinewood Studios for Club 7 at the mere age of 11... more
Read all posts by Gloria Daniels-Moss

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