Film Review: Gu Gu the Cat

BOTTOM LINE: A purr-fect day-out for cat-lovers and single-women.

Pusan International Film Festival
A Window on Asian Cinema

Multifaceted director Isshin Inudo has a knack for making quirky characters come alive ("Josie and the Tiger"), highlighting the local color of a place ("Bizan") and telling a story in the traditional, feel-good way.

"Gu Gu the Cat" mingles all these elements in an amiable modern fairytale set in Tokyo's trendy Kichijoji area, about a manga-artist's bond with her cats and her dappled circle of apprentice-admirers.

Inudo's films had encouraging crossover track records. "Gu Gu" will reach a new height with its eye on Asia's booming market for animal-centered subjects. It's been tipped to be a hit when it releases this November in Korea, where his "Maison de Himiko" opened the import floodgates for small-to-medium scale Japanese films.

The heroine Asako (Kyoko Koizumi) is a gifted manga-artist in her 40s who lives alone with her cat Ca Va. When Ca Va dies, she sinks into creative stasis, until rejuvenation comes in the form of two strapping males: stray tomcat Gu Gu and likable loafer Seiji (Ryo Kase). Asako's lifestyle, bohemian fashion and morass of frizzy hair may reinforce stereotypes of the eccentric spinster, but the film celebrates her non-conformity. Her interest in a younger man is partly wish fulfillment but at least it is described without condescension.

Inudo touches on fundamental issues like aging, death, being single, as well as a woman's dilemma of choosing between self-fulfillment and love commitment. But he relates everything to nature's cycle rather than any social context, in a frivolous, whimsical manner. Koizumi goes with the flow in her performance, displaying hardly any complexity.

"Gu Gu" is more about place than plot -- an impressionistic cinematic outing to capture the topographic landmarks of Kichijoji, a weekend stroller's paradise. An air of magic realism wafts through the residents' lives. A cat assumes the persona of a young woman, and converse with her owner on the nature of mortality. An American language teacher appears as the God of Death in a dream vision.

Feline-fans will be moved by scenarios where cats and humans mirror each others' characteristics.

Cast: Kyoko Koizumi, Juri Ueno, Ryo Kase, Marty Friedman, Naojiro Hayashi.
Director-screenwriter: Isshin Inudo.
Original story by:
Executive producers: Masao Teshima, Takahito Kashino, Yoshi Osawa, Shinya Wazaki, Shinichiro Inoue, Hiroshi Omine, Joo Sung Kim, Akira Ishii.
Producers: Osamu Kubota, Shinji Ogawa.
Director of photography: Takahiro Tsutai.
Production designer: Norihiro Isoda.
Music: Naomi Hosono.
Editor: Chieko Suzuki.
Costumes: Ikukio Utsunomiya.
Sales Agent: CJ Entertainment Inc.
116 minutes.
Production companies: Asmik Ace Entertainment Inc, IMJ Entertainment, Sumitomo Corporation, WOW WOW Inc, Kadokawa Publication Co. Ltd., Music On! TV Inc, CJ Entertainment, Cinema Investment Corp.