Posted on 14 November 2007 with categories: Anime Reviews


To be honest, for the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the various Ghibli-movies and while I admit that I haven’t touched the rumoured best of the bunch yet, I’ve yet to understand why people consider them as legends. At the moment, I see them more as a bunch of movie-makers who excel at realism, just like how Shaft excels in strange art-styles. The Ghibli-movies I’ve seen thus far are great, but I’ve seen many other studios with equally good or even better productions, and I’ve also yet to see a bit of really addictive storytelling mixed with their movies. Luckily, The Cat Returns changed this opinion, and showed me that Ghibli is good at more than just realism.

I went in this movie, expecting something like Sprited Away. A girl gets taken to the cat world, and needs to get out. Well, up till here, the stories match, though that’s also exactly where the similarities end. Instead, this turned into a light-hearted shoujo-adventure, with several playful jabs at despotisms. The setting is smaller than you’d expect, and it’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to be as epic as possible.

Yet, despite this, The Cat Returns actually has the above-mentioned addictive storytelling for me. This is probably the shortest major Ghibli-movie out there, with the length of just over an hour, and because of that, the pacing is a tad faster than the others. Haru, the main character, is interesting and fun to watch, the major side-characters are delightful and creative and the chemistry between the characters is genuine and excellent.

The short length is also a bad point, though. Especially the antagonists could have been more fleshed out and they seem just a bit too silly. While I believe that the creators were well aware of this problem, and I suspect that it was their intention in the beginning, I think that the scenes would have turned out even better if the evil king and his minions would have gotten a bit more development. I do appreciate how this movie managed to give an identity to the different guards that accompany the king. You rarely see that in anime.

The director for this movie is Morita Hiroyuki, the director of Bokura no and who successfully rewrote the final half of the manga into a true masterpiece, and The Cat Returns really shows the same creativity in its story. While you won’t get any of the grand plot twists of the former, you will get an addictive pacing that never turns dull and is varied enough to keep you interested. The guy is really talented at this, and for this movie, he was actually supervised by Hayao Miyazaki. If this movie took itself a bit more seriously, it would have been an epic one, but for now I’ll call this a fun and innocent way to spend an hour.

7 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    I really enjoyed The Cat Returns too. Sure, I’m a cat person anyway (currently living with three overfed and spoilt specimens right now) but it’s a really lighthearted and feelgood family movie…it’s hard to dislike really.

    The running time was a bit on the short side but then it’s probably more comfortable for youngsters to sit through without feeling bored; besides, it has that less epic vibe you mentioned, which makes it a bit more accessible. I loved the characters too: Haru’s a great protagonist, the Baron’s appearance will please Whisper of the Heart fans and the deranged Cat King is hilarious!

    All in all it’s a great debut effort from Morita…kinda hard to believe he took on an epic and angsty series like Bokurano and made such a good job of it really.

  2. asd says:

    I guess Ghibli movies were legends simply because they are, for the most part “feel good films”.
    Like Disney the directors for ghibli know how to make and direct structured stories better than anyone.

  3. marmot says:

    Spot on psgels, this film had a great shoujo atmosphere and story but so many great characters and interactions were squeezed into such a short time that it feels like it’s missing at least half an hour. Porco rosso is another ghibli film i’ve seen that has that almost but not quite a masterpiece feel to it. Still worth watching.

  4. Senna says:

    The Cat Returns didn’t match my expectations either; it felt more aimed /specifically/ at little girls than Ghibli’s other films, but I adored it nonetheless (perhaps because I am a little girl at heart who has always loved cats … ^^). Yet it still retained a quality of being enjoyable for all ages; it didn’t talk down to its audience or anything. To me, it just felt … simpler, maybe? Less epic is probably a good description too ^_^

  5. Lika says:

    I guess Ghibli movies were legends simply because they are, for the most part “feel good filmsâ€�.

    *cough*Graveyard of the Fireflies*cough*

    I mostly love their films because of the detail that goes into the art, and Spirited Away and Mononoke Hime has some of the best stories ever. The manga for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was a lot better than the movie (because the movie only covered about a quarter of it), but I loved it nonetheless for the lack of villains and the message it gives. Besides, any movie that can make giant bugs seem cute is an awesome movie to me. xD

  6. LA says:

    I don’t understand….
    You say The Cat Returns is better than The Whisper of the Heart????

  7. psgels psgels says:

    LA: Yes, I actually enjoyed The Cat Returns more than Whisper of the Heart. It’s probably because the latter, while it has lots of realism, missed the addictive storytelling that drew me in the movie.

    Senna: True, this, along with Ocean Waves, is probably the only Ghibli-movie that isn’t aimed towards all ages. Still, I’m a fan of shoujo-stories, so I didn’t mind. ^^;

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  • Asuka111
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 07:37 AM)
    @Lacrid Surprising, yes, but it seems they’ve brushed over that so far. The story has gone back to normal romcom/slice of life.
  • LacridSayo
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 07:11 AM)
    Wow, Horimiya managed to surprise me twice. They teach me that in the face of adversity, conformity is the way. Also, Miyamura and Hori f&@ks.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 04:09 AM)
    The whole world structure and the framework of spirituality, eyes of death perception, counterforce and whatnots are kept intentionally vague so he can have some wiggle room to bullshit and handwave plot elements as they go on. KnK was a pretty good OVA series tho and Ufotable had a big party to play in that.
  • AidanAK47
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:56 AM)
    Here’s some classic Nasu at work.
    http://lparchive.org/Fatestay-night/Update%2003/30-P02-034.jpg
    A f*cking security system? No, it’s a person creating a small alternate world around them from their mind. Plain and f*cking simple.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:45 AM)
    I’ve heard people criticize Nasu as “writing terrible history fanfiction” and “Like my old bad fanfiction” “When the action scenes actually happen they suck”
  • Raggers
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:44 AM)
    @K-Off: didn’t we all.
  • Raggers
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:44 AM)
    @Aidan: I didn’t know what they were, but “withering eyes of death perception” doesn’t really leave a whole lot up to the imagination anyway…
  • k-off
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:42 AM)
    @Aidan Reminds me of my English papers where I bullshitted tons of explanations to fill up a ten page report.
  • AidanAK47
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:39 AM)
    And the eyes of death perception. Ho Boy. He talks about how it’s not cutting but severing and bonds and blah blah blah.
    Here’s the shorthand. You cut a tree with a knife you make a small cut, cut a tree with a knife while using the eyes of death perception and the tree withers and dies. There only took one sentence to explain something that Nasu uses 10 or so paragraphs for.
  • AidanAK47
    (Tuesday, Sep 16. 2014 03:33 AM)
    Take the explanation for mana. All the man had to explain was more mana = More powerful servant. Yet he makes this comparison to ammo, guns and cannons that is just needlessly confusing.

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