'The Travelling Cat Chronicles' ('Tabineko ripoto'): Film Review | Tokyo 2018

Courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival
Meows and sniffles.

Koichiro Miki’s feature, bowing at the Tokyo International Film Festival before its release in Japan, revolves around the final journeys undertaken by a cat and his young and terminally ill owner.

Japan’s booming cat-movie industry rolls on with The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Koichiro Miki’s adaptation of Hiro Arikawa’s novel which, since its best-selling bow in 2012, has since been translated into English.

Featuring fluffy felines, a handsome human with a heart of gold, serene small-town scenery and a story with sniffling separations aplenty, this Shochiku-produced pic is bound to join its meow-driven predecessors in making the tills ring in Japan (where it opens on Friday, a day after its bow at the Tokyo International Film Festival) and its similarly cat-loving markets in East Asia.

Arikawa’s novel unfolds partly through the narration of its feline protagonist, and he retained this crucial element in his screenplay. The film actually plays up the element by kicking off with Nana (voiced by Mitsuki Takahata) recalling her transformation from a cocky stray into a pet. Her snarky observations of her own life contrast with the demeanor of her owner or “cat-servant”: Satoru (Sota Fukushi, star of the Kamen Rider Fourze action-movie franchise) is a pretty, soft-spoken and loving young man who’s bound to press all the buttons for a certain Asian demographic pining for machismo-free male pin-ups.

The story begins with the pair leaving their home, with Satoru’s aim being to find a new home for Nana because — for reasons which remain unspoken until the end — he can no longer keep her. While wading in occasionally during each of the stops they make, the cat mostly serves as eye candy as Satoru’s encounters with his old friends — at a provincial photo studio and a countryside inn — reveal the young man’s backstory, such as the staggering tragedy that leaves him an orphan when he’s a child and the love triangle he’s entangled in during his high-school days.

Unable to find Nana a new family among these past acquaintances, Satoru can only count on his aunt Noriko (Yuko Takeuchi), who actually halts her own rising career as a judge and moves to the provinces to provide a home for the cat. The reason for her incredible sacrifice ties in with Satoru’s real reason in giving Nana up, and it’s here that Miki and Arikawa really dial up the sentimentality, as the director and screenwriter — with the help of Kotringo’s score — deliver an incredibly drawn-out denouement so that even the most jaded viewer eventually succumbs.

Then again, The Travelling Cat Chronicles has stopped the rot brought about by a recent string of flimsy, opportunistic feline-friendly movies; it at least offers a more substantial narrative, more striking imagery and more sophisticated technique than, say, bizarre crossovers such as Samurai Cat or Neko Ninja, or the cellphone game turned movie Neko Atsume House.

But it’s all about the animals anyway, and animal trainer Mayumi Kitamura’s contribution (she also worked for the aforementioned samurai and ninja cat films) is perhaps important. Those who are drawn in by the film’s title and its cute-cat publicity campaigns would hardly place too much emphasis on the human histrionics. In a way, The Travelling Cat Chronicles has played its role in making sure the meows will go on.

Production company: Shochiku
Cast: Sota Fukushi, Mitsuki Takahata (voice), Yuko Takeuchi
Director: Koichiro Miki
Producers: Minori Tabuchi, Takeshi Udaka, Misato Kawano
Executive producers: Shigeaki Yoshida, Keisuke Tsushima
Screenwriter: Hiro Arikawa, based on his own novel
Director of photography: Takashi Komatsu
Production designer: Koichi Kanekatsu
Costume designer: Tomoki Sukezane
Editor: Shisuke Horiyo
Music: Kotringo
Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Sales: Shochiku

In Japanese
118 minutes