Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart may be the anime master’s most heart-warming story.  Based on the 1989 manga by artist Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper of the Heart is a 1995 romance and drama about a teenage girl who wants to be a writer, and with the determination and self-discipline necessary, she is successful at completing her first novel.  The story within a story that she writes is about an ornamental cat in a store window that she names The Baron.  In a fun twist, Hiiragi wrote the girl’s story into another manga, titled The Cat’s Repayment, and that story was adapted into Studio Ghibli’s 2002 anime film The Cat Returns.  “The Cat” returns to theaters today (June 26) and tomorrow (June 27) as part of the Fathom Events series to launch Studio Ghibli Fest 2022, which wraps next April with the 25th anniversary screenings of Hayao Miyazaki’s sprawling fantasy Princess Mononoke.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs was inspired by the anime films of Studio Ghibli, and you can see the influences from The Cat Returns in particular.  The Cat Returns is a much lighter film with none of the violence of Isle of Dogs.  Widely reviewed as “delightful,” “sweet,” and “cute,” the appeal of The Cat Returns for feline friends is the sincerity and authenticity of director Hiroyuki Morita (Akira, Perfect Blue, My Neighbors the Yamadas) and his use of real cats for some of the cat dialogue.  The story centers on a high school student named Haru.  When Haru rescues a cat in the road from an oncoming truck, the cat stands upright and speaks to thank her, and she soon learns he is a cat prince whose father the Cat King grants her the blessing of total happiness.  She finds she could always hear and communicate with cats, but lost that sense years ago.  Cats from the kingdom pile on the gifts, not realizing people don’t like mice and catnip as much as cats, and when the gifts and rewards get too great and the Cat King goes overboard, she is helped by a well-dressed cat at the Cat Business Office–The Baron.

Haru meets a rather skeptical, rotund, white cat along the way named Muta, who is possibly the finest, most realistic cat ever translated to film.  Studio Ghibli, with creators Miyazaki and Morita, have visually presented the most believable cats in their numerous productions over the decades.  In The Cat Returns the characters are not so much photo-real as in Miyazaki’s directorial efforts (here he serves as executive producer), yet the charming story is truly everything any cat lover will love.  It is also filled with good humor, an engaging fantasy story, and lots of silliness that both kids and adults will appreciate.

The screening June 26 is dubbed in English with an impressive voice cast, including Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) as Haru (originally Chizuru Ikewaki), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) as The Baron (originally Yoshihiko Hakamada), Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein) as Muta (originally Tetsu Watanabe), Tim Curry (The Hunt for Red October, Clue) as the Cat King (Tetsurô Tanba), in addition to the voice talents of Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine), Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Jurassic World), Elliott Gould (M*A*S*H), Andy Richter (The Elf), Kristine Sutherland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Frozen).  The June 27 screening is with the original Japanese voice cast, including Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Aki Maeda, Takayuki Yamada, Hitomi Satô, and Kenta Satoi, and is presented with English subtitles.

Don’t miss the big screen presentation for Yuji Nomi’s (Whisper of the Heart, The Last Emperor) musical score alone.  He uses themes in a way that is reminiscent of Sergei Prokofiev, both in the style of Peter and the Wolf, while also triumphantly paralleling cues from Lt. Kije’s Wedding.  And the beautiful Japanese pop song Kaze ni Naru performed by Tsuji Ayano (the song that made her famous) is the kind of great song you’ll want to sit through all the credits to hear in full.

Studio Ghibli Fest 2022 begins today–calendar the entire line-up of screenings here.  Find theater information and order tickets here.  If you miss the screening, The Cat Returns is finally also available in a 2018 re-release on Blu-Ray and DVD here at Amazon (Whisper of the Heart has also been re-released here).  A cat extravaganza, a great family film, and a lovely entry in the Studio Ghibli catalog, you won’t want to miss this one!

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg