A Whisker Away, Slightly Fanciful but not Feline Free

30 Jun

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

A Whisker Away is likely to have accolades who love Shōjo manga more than curious cats wanting the supernatural to play more into this anime. I’m of the latter persuasion and want to know if the mysterious fat cat known as Mask Seller is a Nekomata. This particular type of trickster spirit loves to toy with humans.

Miyo Sasaki (Mirai Shida) is unfortunate to have a chance encounter with him, and part of it is due to finding out her parents are splitting. The Cheshire Cat can take lessons from this guy, and Keith Silverstein in the dubbed version is amazing in the role. It’s familiar and might be inspired by Jemaine Clement’s performance of Tamatoa the Hermit Crab from Moana, As the devil may care feline who trades in noa masks, he has his own agenda. Part of the deal allows the wearer to transform into another species for “immortality.”

The teenage love story is nothing new–girl wants boy, and the boy wants nothing to do with her until something changes both their lives. It’s like watching early Sailor Moon episodes. In this film’s case, Hinode (Natsuki Hanae) is the object of Miyo’s affection and she can’t get close to him unless she transforms into a cat. While all this affection looks like a case of puppy love, and there’s no buildup (or a scene straight out of the intro in Grease) to explain how this all came to be.

Insert the monomyth where the protagonist has to visit an underworld to learn more about herself and you can’t leave unless some bargain is made and that’s this film in a nutshell. At least the story subverts the formula to bring closure differently.

The narrative really didn’t find its footing until the third act. The humans finally discover something about themselves and the fable is recognized. The life of a cat is not all that cracked up to be when compared to that of a human. The emotional context is far more relatable here, and the Isle of Cats is nothing like the haunted park from Spirited Away. Some viewers may want to compare this film to Studio Ghibli’s piece, and any similarity is superficial.

The movie is very paint by numbers. It would’ve stood out had it delved deeper into explaining why felines are beloved in Japan. A cat’s life may seem easy and terrific, but there’s more to why they are regarded as good luck charms to which this film shows is naught. Even I’m scratching my head at why this wasn’t looked into.

3 Stars out of 5

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