One hour and fifteen minutes of pure, cat-related joy. In other words, definitely my kind of movie!
Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, The Cat Returns, was first released in 2002. It could be called a loose sequel to Whisper of the Heart although it’s not necessary to have seen the latter to understand this film.
Hapless Haru finds herself thrust into a world where cats rule after rescuing, Cat Prince Lune, from certain death. As a reward, The Cat King offers – or rather insists, that Haru should take his son’s hand in marriage. What follows is a comically-laced story about finding where you really belong.
Haru is a girl with her head in the clouds. The movie begins with her over-sleeping for school; only for fellow classmates to laugh at her when she tries to sneak into class and is called out by her teacher. We cut to Haru and her friend, Hiromi, as they stand on the school roof with only the blue sky above them. The title card appears as Hiromi leans with her back to the viewer. Haru looks up into the sky, clearly dreaming of more than life has to offer her right now.
It’s hard to not find Haru charming. Her relatable flaws and want for something more is something most of us can connect with. She’s also selfless and kind-natured, which is clearly displayed within the first five minutes, with her daring rush into the road to save Cat Prince Lune.
We also have a loveable set of side characters in this film. Muta, the large, round cat who helps Haru on her journey. Yuki, a beautiful cat with a bow who tries to warn Haru that things are not all as they seem in the Cat Kingdom. Toto: a bird guardian. For some reason the cats aren’t interested in eating him, although fish and mice are definitely on the menu (probably best not to overthink that one)
Our hero of the story, besides Haru, is Humbert von Gikkingen. Never before has such a stylish cat graced our screens (apart from maybe Top Cat). However, Humbert beats out TC by not only style, but gentlemanly grace. He’s like if Westley from The Princess Bride was thrown into a world of cats and it’s so much fun to watch!
This film isn’t short on action-packed moments and no time is wasted. Despite the short runtime, we still get plenty of time to appreciate the characters, the lush environments, and as always, the beautiful animation. The soundtrack is whimsical throughout and without spoiling anything, the credits song Kaze ni Naru captures the exact feeling that Hiroyuki Morita wants you to feel by the end of the movie.
The plot itself is very simple, with little nuance to it, although this is not a detriment to the film. This is a light-hearted, funny tale of a young girl finding out where she belongs, and where her priorities lie. It’s a tale of that part of life, where you actively choose what road you’re going to go down, a decision we all must make eventually.
In summary, this is a concise, charming and mystical piece of cinema that encapsulates the escapism of a great fairy-tale.