The Cat Returns / Neko no Ongaeshi
Review By: John Fragglepuss Evans
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Studio Ghibli, Cats
First Released: July 2002, 75-minute film
Summary: Haru is a clueless and fairly ordinary 17-year-old girl. She has no special abilities and her main interests are school and lacrosse. She avoids making decisions for herself, often giving into the decisions of others in order to avoid conflict and challenge in her life. On her way home from school one day Haru saves the life of a cat that was about to be run over in traffic. The cat of course turns out to be more than a regular cat, he is the Cat Prince from the Kingdom of Cats. As a result of her heroic gesture, the cat kingdom is insistent on repaying Haru. Things will never be the same as the Cat Kingdom is a persistent bunch and will not stop until the Cat King is satisfied. Haru enlists the Baron and Muta to help her in this odd problem of hers, to be rid of the Cat Kingdom.
The Cat Returns is somewhat of a spin-off of another Studio Ghibli film, “Whisper of the Heart”. It features Muta and the Baron, a cat and a cat statue, which were in Whisper. Besides those loose connections, the story is a stand-alone. The story is based on “The Cat Baron” by Hiiragi Aoi.
The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita, his only Studio Ghibli film. While Morita only directed one Ghibli film, he has worked on others, such as My Neighbors the Yamadas and Kiki’s Delivery Service. He was also an animator for the Akira film. The Cat Returns was the highest grossing domestic film in Japan in 2002.
Haru is an interesting character to pay attention to as the film progresses. She develops an impressive amount, considering the short film time. The comparison is most notable at the conclusion of the film. Without giving anything away, I will just say it is one of my favorite scenes. Muta is another character that changes from start to finish, although in a less noticeable way.
One of the best parts of the film is the depiction of cat mannerisms. The cat gifts are hilarious and the cat parade is even better. On top of that, the cat kingdom is just fantastic. Combine all that with the eccentric Cat King and you have yourself a recipe for wonderful cat humor.
The music for The Cat Returns is composed by Yuji Nomi, the same composer as Whisper of the Heart. The soundtrack is noticeably different than some of the other Ghibli films, but it feels magical nonetheless.
The voice talent is another positive part of the film. The English translation includes the voices of: Cary Elwes, Tim Curry, Anne Hathaway, Kristen Bell, and others. It is a quality translation, much better than a lot of anime dubs out there.
The last comment I will mention about The Cat Returns is how I appreciate that while the plot appears simple on the surface, there is so much more to it. It is an easy story to understand on your first watch, but you can get something completely different out of it the second time through. Along those lines, the simple plot is easy for children to understand, making it a great film for all ages.
You might enjoy this if: You are new to anime and want an easy film to get you introduced to it. Also, if you enjoy Studio Ghibli films, this is a must see!
You might not like it if: You want to get into a longer series. The Cat Returns is only a little over an hour long.
Note to the Viewer: The idea for The Cat Returns started as a 20-minute short starring cats for a Japanese amusement park. The idea for the amusement park was scrapped, but The Cat’s story kept getting longer and longer until it turned into a film.
The Cat Returns – Official Trailer