「泣きたい私は猫をかぶる」 (Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu)
“Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat” or “A Whisker Away”
(Note: This review contains spoilers about the film, including the ending, so read at your own risk)
Much can be said about the state of anime under Netflix. Some collaborations fall under the weight of America’s refusal to air releases that aren’t bundled for binge-watching. Others are experiences that are tailor-made towards being released all at once so that viewers can enjoy a story that benefits from not having to wait for the next episode.
Many of these points are amplified by COVID-19, which poses the added challenge of whether it is worth it to have entirely new content to release in 2020 that isn’t released through traditional means. Video-On-Demand or VOD has become a curse word lately used for movies that decided to bite the bullet and come out on streaming sites or home video without the pomp and circumstance of a movie theater showing. But whereas some film studios have had to plug their noses to release otherwise large tentpole films to be purchased from home, some had already been scheduled for home release via streaming sites like Netflix or Disney Plus.
Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu had a lofty goal of being released in Japanese cinemas by early June, months after Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel III. spring song. But by opting to go to Netflix for distribution instead of having it purchased via VOD services, it does lend itself to the idea that creating a story that’s intended to be short and digestible is all the more successful when it gets scooped up by a distribution source that thrives on the constant influx of short, digestible experiences.
Unlike many anime films that we cover less than a year later for its home release, Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu was ready and available to stream in mid-June with a few minor delays pushing its release forward a few weeks. Its original cast has film actress Shida Mirai and Kimetsu no Yaiba’s Hanae Natsuki as the main characters Miyo and Hinode. But I went with the English dub that was released a brief time later because Cherami Leigh and Johnny Yong Bosch are always in top tier productions. In fact, I’m impressed with the cast list because there isn’t a single voice actor on there that drops the ball. The Cat Storekeeper antagonist stays intimidating because Keith Silverstein does a good job of striking the balance between portraying a devious trickster and a vicious fraudster. Miyo’s best friend Yoriko Fukase stood out for me the most because of how Erika Harlacher was able to flip the on/off switch whenever Yoriko went from being aloof and sarcastic to horrified and concerned for her eccentric friend.
But above all else, the soul of the film is in its authorship. The film is co-directed by
Sato Junichi (Director of three season of the ARIA anime series) and Shibayama Tomotaka (Director of Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda.). Their collaboration isn’t as much of a coincidence if you take into account that they would once again be working with writer Mari Okada (Writer of Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda., ARIA the NATURAL, and possibly, the year 2020).
Ever since I’ve written about it, her first directorial effort Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo has grown on me quite a bit, but my main excitement from popping in this anime film about a girl who shapeshifts into a cat to get closer to a guy comes from Mari Okada’s involvement. Whether her stories end up being shockingly brilliant or fantastic trainwrecks, there’s never a boring moment to be had. Luckily, Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu never overstays its welcome with how much is packed into the film and how interesting each new development comes about. How will Miyo try to help Hinode with his home life as a human when she can only understand him while she’s a cat? How is Hinode going to try to make amends after acting harshly to her about a letter she wanted to give him? How is she going to return to her human form before all is too late?
You can tell that the film was a fun project for Sato, Shibayama, and Okada to collaborate on because of the high concept story it wanted to tell. A girl who is pining for her classmate finds that she can only get him to notice her if she uses a mask to transform into a cat that can bond with him, lay down on his chest, and nuzzle against his cheek. It’s the kind of story you can have fun toying around with as Miyo starts to question whether she can truly stand out in her human form when Hinode loves to dote on her cat form.
At the same time, because you’re looking to solve these answers right away, the film is also too quick to resolve a problem as soon as it’s introduced. Will Kinako continue to use Miyo’s visage to get closer to Hinode? Nope, she decides to help Miyo once she realizes that her owner, Miyo’s stepmom Kaoru misses her. Will Hinode remain mad at Miyo for the remainder of the film for being embarrassed by her letter? Nope, he quickly realizes he’s in the wrong after he has another encounter with Miyo’s cat form. Conflict resolution has to happen quickly when you introduce a multitude of plot points, but because of this, it feels like the film blows through so much in such a small time frame.
The film also loses a bit of its momentum by the last half hour when Miyo is trapped in her cat form and has to go into the Island of Cats to try to get her human body back. By that point, the film is racing to get to the point where Miyo and Hinode can reunite so that they can turn her back into a human. The final confrontation with the Shop Keeper also felt confusing and jarring because of how sloppy and quick that phases of the battle came and went. The Island of Cats in of itself also felt a little too Ghibli-esque, but I’m cool with giving it a pass because it was also reminiscent of ARIA the NATURAL’s “To The Kingdom Of Cats” episode where its cast interacts with a closed-off metropolis where cats dwell.
Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu is an engaging, fresh story that has fun with its main premise. The influence from its directors and writer helps to take a story about a girl getting closer to a guy by turning into a cat he likes to play with, and gift it with the emotional gravitas and whimsy of a small-town coming-of-age story. It’s comfort food to its highest degree as an experience that will leave you feeling warm, cozy, and satisfied. It does have the pacing issues you would expect from a short movie condensing a plethora of details and backstories down to smaller segments. But if you’re looking for a feel-good film that doesn’t do too much to throw you off your groove, Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu is a pretty good choice.