Review by C.J. Bunce

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” returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events series and Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, and has its final screening at theaters nationwide Wednesday evening, April 25, 2018, at 7 p.m. local time.  Find theater information and order tickets here.

This month’s release of 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.  It has rightly been referred to as “delightful,” “sweet,” and “cute.”  Its appeal for cat fans 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.  Soon the Cat King determines Haru should marry his son, and Haru, The Baron, and Muta embark on an escape from the palace through a labyrinthine maze.  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.

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