Cat Moves

Previously published in Neo magazine #43, 2008

It must be Thursday, because another of my friends has decided to complain about the Anime Encyclopedia – a book that gives new meaning to the term “tough love.”

“I thought you were a trifle harsh on The Cat Returns,” he said.

A trifle harsh!? My co-author and I barely gave it a slap on the wrist. We called it a “minor Ghibli”, an assessment with which not even Studio Ghibli is likely to argue. Let’s face it, I said to him, it’s no Whisper of the Heart, is it?

There was a long, agonising pause, and then he admitted he’d never seen Whisper of the Heart, although of course it was on his list of things to do.

For those oldies like myself who waited for each Ghibli release with bated breath, we had no choice but to see them in the release order. Now that they’re all available on DVD, the viewing experience can be totally random. You can see the best first, or last, or perhaps even not at all. In some cases, this might actually be a good thing, a benefit of living in modern times, but now I was intrigued.

If he owned a reference book on anime, then he surely knew the relationship of the two films. Why didn’t he buy Whisper of the Heart first?

“Please don’t tell me,” I said, with mounting horror, “that you picked this one because it had the word ‘cat’ in the title?”

There was another pregnant pause.

“It might have had something to do with it,” he said.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Movie titles are simplified all the time. They want to be memorable, and they want to feel cosy. It’s why in the action world there are so many titles like Fatal This and Lethal That. Why buzzwords are so useful in selling movies. And, I suppose, why any mention of a bloody cat is liable to up sales in certain quarters. Come on, Studio Ghibli. There’s still time to change the title of your next film to Lethal Kitten Space iPhone. It might make all the difference….

27 thoughts on “Cat Moves

  1. I have seen Whisper of the Heart and it is very beautiful and a great story. Regarding The Cat Returns, I have yet to see it I will have to concur with you that it is a “minor ghibli” since you are the “expert” in this field.

  2. Huh. In my Spirited Away book, I described ‘Cat Returns’ as a ‘completely marginal’ film that runs ‘out of ideas as soon as the real world is left behind.’ Why don’t I get any of this hate mail? (I know, I know, there’s an obvious answer…)

    That said, I do think Disney’s dub – featuring IIRC Anne Hathaway, Peter Boyle and Tim Curry – is one of the best I’ve heard. And I still go out of my way to defend ‘Howl’ and ‘Earthsea,’ so I can hardly talk.

  3. I love Whisper of the Heart and I think I saw it just after The Cat Returns … you’re right about calling it a minor Ghibli. Whisper is such a better film! The a-list oh look anime is fashionable English dub for Cat was just ….. too American.

    Oh and I can’t stand Earthsea.

  4. I like both Whisper Of The Heart and The Cat Returns, but they’re fundamentally different films which makes them difficult to compare.

    I love both films but (cards on the table time) I felt that Whisper Of The Heart had a weak ending that left no real resolution, whereas Cat Returns gives you a beginning, a middle and an end. What more could you ask of a story?

  5. Aha, but both Tim Curry (the baddie) and Cary Elwes (the dashing Baron) are British. I was disappointed with many of Disney’s Ghibli dubs – especially Nausicaa, Laputa and Mononoke – but I thought the one for Cat Returns was a very pleasant surprise.

    If we really need to fight, bags I choose the weapons… In honour of Ghibli, I vote that Lesley and I bash each other over the head with giant Totoro dolls. (Some of the ones in Tokyo toy stores are really lethal.) And whoever loses must watch every episode of the anime version of Lilo and Stitch.

  6. The dub for The Cat Returns is one of the best cast dubs I’ve heard for any Ghibli film, not just owing to the “A-List” cast, but simply because the right voices were given to the right characters. Even with Howl’s Moving Castle, a movie I personally adore, the characters were far too American for the most part – considering it’s a book written by a British person and clearly set in Europe.

    Regarding The Cat Returns, it’s very clearly a marginal Ghibli film that has no real substance to it; however, that doesn’t make it a poor film. I enjoy both films, but The Cat Returns often hits the DVD player over Whisper of the Heart simply because it’s much easier viewing.

    Besides, I’m a big softy and Whisper of the Heart makes me feel gushy and gross, lol.

  7. Does this mean you’ll be changing the name of School Girl Milky Crisis to Cat Girl Fluffy Wuffy Crisis?

    That’s the trouble I find with writing reviews, is that some readers tend to dwell on certain aspects of it. Especially if it’s a title they’ve already seen and formed an attachment to. I remember in the past there being issues with Manga Mania / Manga Max drew readers ire by not giving a filler episode of Evangelion 5 out of 5.

    I’ve had to lot of bad e-mails for criticising a certain anime show in the past on Anime Digital before, stating that the animation quality was only average. One correspondent thought the show in particular had the best quality animation they’d ever seen. So I had to point out why I said it was average – It used stock animation frequently. You could tell that at least two different outsourcing studios were used in the producing each episode too. There were many other issues with it, but I could probably write an essay on that, and I don’t want all the fans of the series to flood my inbox. ^_-

  8. I second Cat Girl Fluffy Wuffy Crisis. Stick a lolcat on the cover and you’ll be outselling Jeremy Clarkson.

    Joe – I don’t think there are any insane fans here, so can you say what the ‘certain anime show’ was? I’m intrigued now… 🙂

    Paul – aw, I love Whisper’s ending! Though I remember the laugh that the last scene got when it was shown at the Barbican yonks ago. (IIRC, there was a large contingent of Japanese women in the audience.)

  9. I find it’s rather tough to compare these two movies as a sequel, as the only link between the two is the Baron and Muta, but that’s where it ends. I find it best to watch these as alternate universes for the same two characters, done by two different directors. Lookng at it that way gives me a perspective independant of each that allows them to shine in their own individual way without having to compete against the other.

  10. I like the idea that Cat Returns is perhaps a story written by Shiziku, the schoolgirl and budding fantasy writer in Whisper of the Heart.

  11. out of all the anime series/films ive tried to show my mum i can say that the cat returns is one of the few my mum actually enjoyed watching from start to finish.
    [note to people – some parents might not appreciate evangelion]
    additionally am i the only one who felt that howls moving castle would have worked better as either a 6 part series or at least as 2 hour long films? it just seemed to me that although there was a good story there the film seemed pained to tell that story within the time of the film – even the twist at the end seemed tacked on at the last minute.

  12. That works for me too, but still even that would be an alternative universe wouldn’t it? Though it is never hinted as to what her story was about, I can speculate that it had something to do with the Baron finally reuniting with his missing companion, with as much probability.

  13. Yes, ‘Cat Returns’ would still be a parallel universe, but it would have a more specific kind of connection to the ‘Whisper’ one. (IIRC, the Macross people did something similar; they said that the ‘Macross Do You Remember Love’ movie was a movie _within_ the universe of the Macross TV series, retelling ‘real’ events in a Hollywood-style way – the original TV version of Macross being the ‘real’ or canonical version of the story.)

    I agree that the story Shizuku is shown writing in ‘Whisper’ seems to be about the Baron and his beloved cat-companion. However, Shizuku might have written ‘Cat Returns’ later…

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  15. I really didn’t enjoy Whisper of the Heart…it felt kind of sexits and set in its ways to me. Sure, there’s some great animation sequences – but it’s a Ghibli film so that’s a given. But the whole ‘girl wants to make something of herself, so writes a story, gets told by some old geezer its a bit shit, so decides she’d be better off devoting her life to some pathetic emo musician boy’ plot left me fuming, I’m afraid.

    Whereas ‘The Cat Returns’ whole ‘stop obsessing over boys and enjoying being a child while you can’ riff seemed to be far more progressive, and I wonder if it was meant by Morita to be an answer to the earlier film…?

  16. Whisper of the Heart is lower-key than much of Ghibli and has no real fantasy element (the business with the Baron being just a dream) but this may work to its advantage. A perfect portrait of spring/summer vacation on the verge of adolescence and library bar codes.


    Shizuku was just inexperienced at writing (like you back in middle school), and jiji was not discouraging. I don’t think she was that hung-up on the boy, either. You really found it sexist and unnatural for a kid that age to be a little melancholy when their crush is going away? I’ll grand that the ending maybe could turn bad; if the film followed Seiji and Shizuku into their twenties it would resemble 5CM/S. Even so, before dashed hopes you have hopes, and, personally, I don’t think romantic attachments were invented as a gender norm.

  17. I’ve seen both films many times. I saw Whisper of the Heart second and thought it was a much better film. Both are excellent movies, and The Cat Returns is certainly a fun title, but I consider Whisper of the Heart to be a large step above.

    As for order, I just saw them when Disney released them.

  18. …….

    …I’m not much of a fan of Ghibli at all…..

    …I know, I know, I must never darken this blog with my presence ever again….


  19. Jon, don’t forget to reccomend My Neighbour Totaro to your friend, he’ll wish he had as awesome a vehicle as the cat bus.

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