So it was that, good cat slave that I am, I made a beeline for Japan’s latest offering of feline adorableness as soon as I could. Because, of course, shelling out money to watch a film about cats counts as worshipping my feline overlord.
Nana (voiced by Takahata Mitsuki) is a smart and sassy cat adored by his owner Satoru (Fukushi Sota). However, for reasons unknown, Satoru now cannot keep his cat, so he and Nana go on a journey across Japan to find a new home for the feline. As Nana and Satoru meet old friends and new, they uncover secrets and eventually Satoru’s past…
Tabineko Ripoto (published English title being The Travelling Cat Chronicles) is adapted from the novel of the same name by Arikawa Hiro, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. I’d not been pleased to know that Fukushi Sota was picked for the film, but figured I’d ignore his face for the sake of the cat. It didn’t quite work, but having an adorable cat feature for the better part of the film did help paper over a few things.
I had written a whole post on the differences between the novel and the film, but decided in the end I would keep this short and hopefully sweet. The film is overall a decent watch regardless of whether you read the novel, and does a fairly solid job of wringing tears and tugging at heartstrings. At its core, it is about love and loss, and saying goodbye in the softest, most roundabout way possible. Satoru cannot keep Nana even though he would love to, but he does his utmost to find a new home for the kitty among the people he trusts. Nana already knows, thanks to the sixth sense and keen sense of smell that animals possess – and in the end, in his own way, he comes to terms with Satoru’s decision to rehome him. Throughout their journey, Satoru’s friends learn to deal with their own emotional baggage and move on from the past. To the film’s credit, it found a cat with markings very similar to novel Nana, and preserved most of Nana’s snarky and witty remarks. Cat and human’s devotion to each other was obvious and touching, from Nana foiling each attempt to rehome him, to Satoru’s obvious reluctance to part with his beloved feline. The best bit? Nana yelling “inuyaro” at a dog, ready to do damage because the dog had dared to give Satoru the third degree!
Logistical issues meant some omissions were unavoidable, such as moving the last arc from Hokkaido in winter to the more temperate Kitakyushu, and removing a funny segment of Nana befriending a snooty cat and some chatty dogs in the pets holding area of the ferry during the crossing. A scene of Sugi (Ono Takuro) and Satoru rescuing a dog during their high school days was changed to include Chikako (Hirose Alice) – this was rather unnecessary, as was the scene where Sugi said more than he should to deter Satoru in his bid to win Chikako’s affections. Not so logistical an omission was the near removal of Yoshimine (Maeno Tomoya), one of Satoru’s friends who was in the line-up to be Nana’s new slave. I had enjoyed Yoshimine’s arc in the novel and was sorry to see it much reduced, not least because there was a hilarious segment of Nana teaching Yoshimine’s new kitten how to cat. An addition I didn’t care for was Satoru taking photos at the photography studio of his childhood friend Kosuke (Yamamoto Ryosuke) – if the film’s tagline wasn’t already a dead giveaway, this would be it.
Fukushi Sota was frustratingly blank in key moments of the film – he was passable in the basics, but the nuances seemed to have escaped his face completely. The director’s close-ups of Fukushi’s face were painful to watch because it was impossible to detect any sort of micro-expressions reflecting Satoru’s innermost emotions at any given difficult moment. This made it hard to feel more for Satoru despite the hints peppered throughout about his circumstances and why he had to give Nana up. To be fair, Fukushi seemed to have handled the cat pretty well, so that’s a point in his favour. Takahata Mitsuki did well voicing Nana, and made Nana’s reactions and remarks a source of much amusement and sometimes comic relief. Takeuchi Yuko was fine as Satoru’s aunt Noriko, and helped shoulder a fair amount of the heavy lifting in the more sombre scenes, such as the dinner scene where Noriko and Satoru had a heart-to-heart talk about a number of things. I also liked the scene where Satoru taught Noriko the right way to pet Nana. I had not realised Hirose Alice was in the film and found her Chikako quite likeable and chipper.
Overall, a pretty nice watch if you are a cat lover, and a timely reminder to give your furbabies an extra tight hug or several. The film’s official Instagram page has adorable photos of the cat who plays Nana, and here’s a clip of the opening minute of the film: