THE CAT RETURNS
(Neko No Ongaeshi)
The Cat Returns received a surprisingly negative response from a number of anime fans. Largely the problem seems to be that people were expecting another Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away from the Ghibli/Miyazaki name attached. While the film does not scale the sublime heights that Hayao Miyazaki did with either, it is delightful and perfectly charming in its own right. The problem is more, one suspects, a case of Miyazaki having raised the bar of peoples expectations so high that anything slightly less comes as a disappointment.
Certainly, there are many familiar elements of Hayao Miyazakis films here. The girls venture into the otherworld filled with bizarre talking animals has many similarities to Spirited Away and My Neighbor Tortoro (1988), while the chase sequences through the maze and up the tower that climax the film are reminiscent of the nutty slapstick dementia of Miyazakis The Castle of Cagliostro (1980). The film also returns to the shoujo anime style that Miyazaki has ventured into upon a number of occasions.
Hiroyuki Moritas strength is in the characters and in a perfectly naturalistic sense of humour. There is a charm to the heroines plight finding herself pursued by hordes of cats, with perfectly wrapped gifts of mice appearing in her locker and her horror at discovering she is about to be married to the cat prince. Morita gets marvellous play out of the characters in the background, especially the grumpily overweight Muta and his constant being sidetracked by food and fights with the raven Toto. The scenes in the otherworld realm are appealing. Maybe Morita doesnt craft his otherworld with the painterly contemplative beauty that Miyazaki does in Spirited Away but there is a lot of fun to be had in the slapstick chases through the maze, the bizarre antics of the performers at the wedding banquet and the heroines increasingly perplexed problem at finding herself turning into a cat and being served up platters of raw fish.