By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray
Played at Fantasia 2019
July 28, 2019
Whether the reverence of cats is explored in manga—like What’s Michael—is played at within a cat cafe or is studied through folklore, there’s no denying these felines have a power. In Island of Cats, these kitties have more than just staying power. In Japan, Tama is a station master at Kishi Station who greets nearly every traveller. Even the building itself was redesigned in her honour.
The star of this film even takes on this name, but here, this felis catus is a he and his master is Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa), a retiree/widower. His son lives on the mainland and his wife died two years ago. This old man has no desire to move off his idyllic paradise.
The locals are an amusing bunch. Iwao (Kaoru Kobayashi) is Daikichi’s closest friend. The island’s only doctor (Tasuku Emoto) seems out of place, since his peers say he’ll have little else to do other than write death certificates. Enough people populate this town to give it a thriving fishing economy (despite one citizen being fearful of it) and the kids love Daikichi.
Some may think the island of cats is a huge old age home. It’s not. When city girl Michiko (Ko Shibasaki) arrives to escape the busy city life, she’s not entirely welcomed at first. She wants to open a cafe and it takes coaxing by the cat (with no surprise) to discover an angle to convince islanders to visit. She even gets a suitor. Kentaro Wakamura (Tasuku Emoto) is a young adult who’s not ready for life in the concrete jungle.
No big plot drives Island of Cats. What we see is more like a documentary about man and nature. Where do we belong? What keeps us going? This film is purrfect (sorry, I had to say it eventually) to show to people we have to take a moment to enjoy the life that is. Instead of fretting over everything, people should relax. That’s what cats love doing the most. Whether that’s to enjoy being with the company of others or meander the beaches to soak in the sun, even I feel ready to do the same in these dog days of summer.
Director Mitsuaki Iwagō’s eye for emoting this desire is spot on when he cuts in scenes of what these cats best do–to be adorable. When considering he got his start as a wildlife photographer, the skills he brings to the cinema front is definitely a spotlight. The thought of all that raw fish (food show moments) to eat is enough for me to say, “Get me to this paradise right meow!”
4 Cats out of 5