Brief Review of The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns strikes me as one of the lesser known Studio Ghibli titles.  There was a showing in theaters on Monday as part of Ghibli Fest 2018.  Today is the last day to see The Cat Returns in theaters, and I hope my dear readers are able to take advantage of it if they have the time.  Because no one talks about The Cat Returns, I assumed it was a mediocre film.  What I discovered on Monday was that it’s a splendid movie reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and better than the Disney film of Lewis Caroll’s famous book.

Cat Returns 1

Before talking about the film, I must mention how vexatious Fathom Event’s presentation of the movie proved to be.  Having arrived twenty minutes early, I settled down to read some of Dostoyevsky’s short story “The Crocodile.”  It’s a very amusing short story which mocks capitalism and socialism at the same time.  The capitalist character basically lacks compassion for the poor and is overly academic.  The socialist character, who happens to get swallowed by a crocodile early in the short story, does not even live in reality.  This gentleman somehow manages to live after being swallowed by the crocodile and feels that his position, that of one cut off from humanity and in complete darkness, somehow qualifies him to propose new economic and social theories to mankind.  It has to be one of Dostoyevsky’s funniest pieces, and I’d recommend “The Crocodile” to anyone with some spare time.

Cat Returns 5

When the time for the showing began, I was dismayed by seeing in the lower right corner of the screen “Advertised time to showing: 30:00.”  No, the advertised time was now–not half an hour from now!  I suppose Fathom Events needed time to show their own advertisements and coming attractions–and, I would have resigned myself even to half an hour of coming attractions and ads.  BUT THEY SPENT TWENTY MINUTES OF THE TIME WITH TRIVIA QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CAT RETURNS!  I don’t want to guess at trivia about a movie I’ve never seen!  And they repeated the same questions over again!  The movie did not even begin half an hour later: THERE WERE MORE ADS EVEN AFTER HALF HOUR WAS UP!  If only I had known I was arriving an hour before the movie started.  I used this extra time to finish reading “The Crocodile” and moved on to Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk before the feature actually began.

Cat Returns 3

At any rate, the actual film was spectacular.  Haru, our heroine, has the good fortune to save the prince of the magical Cat Kingdom.  For which, the king of that land wishes to marry Haru to his son by way of reward.  Naturally, our Japanese high school girl has no wish to be married off to a cat.  To prevent this marriage, she seeks the help of Baron Humbert von Gikkingen and his two associates, Toto and Muta.  (The latter of whom, a large white cat, amusingly gets called Buta–“Pig”–by two of the characters in the show.  I wonder how they conveyed that pun in the English dub?)  Baron Humbert’s attitude and poise rather reminds one of Sherlock Holmes, which is no accident considering the great popularity of Sherlock Holmes in Japan.  (There’s even a statue of Holmes in Karuizawa.)  Things immediately get worse as soon as Baron Humbert agrees to help her, and the audience is treated to a great adventure in the Cat Kingdom.

Cat Returns 4

One might wonder whether the animation from 2002 would hold up in 2018.  It looked great to me; though, I am a fan of the older cel style of animation–the kind Megalo Box is trying to emulate.  The adventure in The Cat Returns reminded me a lot of Alice in Wonderland.  Our heroine shrinks once she arrives in Cat Kingdom.  It turns out that the king is a crazy despot.  The Baron must help Haru escape before she becomes a permanent resident.  Throughout, the animation and music score keep the audience fascinated as the time passes all too quickly.  If anything, the main drawback to this movie is that it feels a bit rushed.  One wishes that it lasted a good half an hour more.

Cat Returns 2

So, my advice is to go watch The Cat Returns in theaters while you have the chance.  If you miss the last showing today, it’s still very much worth watching at home.  Overall, I have to give it…

★★★★ 1/2

22 comments on “Brief Review of The Cat Returns

  1. WeekendOtaku says:

    My wife and I caught this one today. We didn’t have the same issue you did with the start of the film being delayed at our theater, which started it promptly as advertised (though with a short turkish animation preceding it), but I do recall seeing this “extra” Fathom programming with another film before.

    We had a lot of fun with this one in any case, and I thought it one of the more humorous Ghibli films I’ve seen. I thought the length just right too, given that it was an evening show after work and I was getting tired by the end. All around a good experience, and I’m glad I was able to catch this in the theater while they had it.

    Our theater was showing the dub today, so to answer your question about Muta, they called him “Moo-ta” instead, comparing him to a cow rather than a pig.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I also saw that Turkish animation. It’s amazing what you can get a cat to do with a laser pointer. 🙂

      I do agree with The Cat Returns being very humorous. Some of the humor was created by how abrupt some of the characters’ actions are. I never expected the king to start defenestrating bad performers at the feast, for example. Thanks for telling me how they did the joke in the dub. I was thinking that they would change Muta’s name to Big or Mr. Big and work in the pig pun that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • WeekendOtaku says:

        I completely agree about the humor. I personally was in a fit of giggles seeing Muta comatose in that jar of jelly. I know Haru thought he was dead but the one cat’s suggestion that they just take the jar along when she protested leaving him just did it for me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That was hilarious: everything from the idea of catnip jelly to bringing Muta into the feast that way.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Samuru says:

    I saw this movie years ago and really enjoyed it! I hadn’t put the connection of the Cat with Sherlock Holmes. I also found it interesting how popular those stories are in Japan! I wasn’t aware of that, and was just nice to know 🙂 God bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. LitaKino says:

    Ahhh my favourite of all the Ghibli films. Your right it’s not talked about enough in honestly which makes me sad. It is such a charming tale about believing in ones self. That trivia before the screening of the film sounds fun. But maybe they should have left for after doing before is silly. For people like you who have never seen it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s true that people don’t talk about it enough. Perhaps if they did, I would have seen it before now and have been less irritated with the trivia questions in the beginning–maybe not much less, but a little less.


  4. […] Brief Review of The Cat Returns By Medieval Otaku  […]


  5. Miyazaki (among others) seems to have an affection for the romanticism of early industrial era. For example, the steampunk in Laputa. His imagination is very much from the perspective of a child. He has admitted in interviews that a number of his stories he has worked on for many, many years, so perhaps these have captured some of his early childhood dreams and beliefs, which is why they stand out in a pantheon of follow-the-formula.

    Perhaps the industrial era is so interesting to the Japanese because of their own quick transition during the Meiji Restoration. They went from castles to battleships pretty quickly, in which culture changed dramatically. Here in the West, we see the industrial era as very long and full of problems, like the Civil War and slavery, etc. It wasn’t a happy time in America, to say the least. I could care less for that era. Steampunk is still interesting, but for me at least, it’s only interesting because I’ve seen through anime like Laputa and Last Exile what it could be given a fantasy take on it.

    The era also has an aura of politeness that I think appeals greatly to Japanese people. The bows, the wearing of modest clothing, the tipping of hats, and the polite vocabulary go very well with Japanese culture, but perhaps because they aren’t present in the modern West, their shadows are of greater interest.

    Just speculating here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can definitely see the Japanese as admiring the Industrial Era. They have always admired Great Britain, which reached the zenith of their power during this time. Eigoku, their name for Britain, translates to “Brave Country.” For a tiny island country to have built such a vast empire, the country must be filled with brave men. (Unfortunately for the Japanese, their own attempt to build a great empire ended in disaster.) That and all the changes Japan underwent in the Meiji Era play a large part in that.

      But, the 19th century holds much appeal for many other people. Besides being a more polite society (English was only just ridding itself of the distinction between the informal and formal second person singular), the era is also attractive because people who knew they were. Germans were proud of being Germans, French of being French, etc. People understood their national traditions and character. They were not afraid to fight for them, and, at the same time, people were far more civilized than they had been during any period before. It is as if chivalry finally blossomed completely until it received a mortal wound on the fields of Gettysburg. Christianity was also the default outlook, rather than something which needs constant defense.

      Two world wars later, people don’t know who they are either in relation to God or their fellow citizens. Society is made up of atomized individuals whose basic connection is economic. Things are much less rough and fairer than in those days, but there is still a lot to be nostalgic about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luminas says:

        The main problem with that outlook in general is not so much the British character, but how cruel that society was to anyone who wasn’t perfectly average (and also, more importantly, White). This was a world in which capitalism ran amok, unfettered, creating insane and exploitative cruelty worse than any fake version we’ve made. This was a world in which people with disabilities were treated like subhuman monsters, and let into the period in which we were murdered. This was a world in which you could do almost anything you wanted to a woman and she’d have zero recompense against you. This was a world in which Black people were slaves or second-class citizens, depending on whether you were in America or overseas. So in a sense, I guess it was a paradise for rich white men and either a discomforting gilded cage where telling your truth was dangerous and possibly physically or economically threatening (white women), or a psychologically defeating oppressive atmosphere for everyone else. The politeness is great and all, but one has to see what demons it was hiding. The Middle Ages = Way more brutal, but in some ways significantly less oppressive. This was the age in which the complicated social ties between average people began to break under the strain of overpopulation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I suppose that one can look at the nineteenth century as a very brutal period in history, but you must remember Nietzsche’s remark written in 1887: “Ours is the most decent and compassionate age.” And, Nietzsche was right: the 19th century was far more compassionate than prior ages.

        There is a certain sense in which British capitalism was very exploitative: the government abolished peasantry, which enabled the nobility to evict all the persons whom they were formerly obliged by law to permit to dwell on their estate. I’ve heard that the main goal for this action was to provide industrialists with an abundance of cheap labor, which it did in spades. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the nineteenth century laborers is that American slaves were materially better off than free laborers both in America and in Europe. Hence, anti-capitalists and defenders of slavery easily hit on the term “wage slave,” because how free could a laborer be supporting a family on less than a dollar a day in today’s money? Oddly enough, the disease–capitalism–eventually provided the cure, and destitution is incredibly rare in the Western world–when it used to be the common lot of the working class.

        It’s hard to say the extent to which disabled people were treated as subhuman: it’s well-known that beggars had to at least pretend to be disabled in order to incite pity in passersby for alms. The average person in those days was much less likely to donate to an apparently healthy person. The Church has always affirmed the value of each person and of charity, and the influence of the Church was far greater in the 19th century than it is now. Though the eugenics movement had its roots in the late 19th century (the English word was coined in 1883), it did not become influential until the early 20th century.

        The curious thing about your emphasis on the importance of being white in the 19th century is that people everywhere have always been tribal: preferring their own kind to other peoples. This was considered the default condition. Whites first invented the idea that it was wrong to privilege the people of one’s own race over people of other races, and, beginning around 1950, this has become the majority position.

        You say that women could essentially be preyed upon by men in the 19th century, but I can only imagine this to be true if the woman was utterly alone in the world. In which case, things haven’t changed even now. Women for most of history were not only considered persons but commodities: without women, a community has no future. Therefore, communities have always had an incentive to protect women and considered outrages against women outrages against their own honor. In the 19th century, rape was a capital offense, unlike today, where the average time served for rape in the USA is five and a half years followed by parole. It’s pretty sick that a crime once considered worse than death in the 19th century now only sends people to jail for five and a half years on average! As for whether a woman had any resort if a man committed a crime on her, she had the courts in civilized places and her family, guns, and lynching in places less civilized. People in the 19th century tended not to be atomized individuals but were closely connected to their families and communities. Their family at least would act if their community would not.

        Overall, the 19th century had its faults, but the faults don’t mean that we can’t learn a lot from the best of the 19th century. In a similar way, one can describe the 20th century as one of totalitarianism, mass slaughter, and alienation from tradition, country, religion, and family. But, there is still much good to be found therein.


      • Luminas says:

        On a macro level, it’s quite likely that my genes were selected and survived (and I suspect certain aspects of my personality have a genetic basis, based on their seeming immutability and presence at very early points in my life) because I’m simply not as disturbed by being in certain circumstances as others. But the commonality of those exact traits (the mild tolerance for unpleasant or abusive behavior, the tolerance for disruption of one’s personal agency, the attraction to awful-but-powerful people) in a lot of women, and the fact that they don’t show up in men too often, suggests an environment in the very recent past that demanded those traits, which implies something…very screwed up about our generation’s immediate ancestors.

        Anyway, I saw The Cat Returns with my best friend and I utterly adored it. It was a simple fairy tale with an amusing, funny edge to the dialogue and a lot of charm. Also, we were laughing the entire time about the trope-ish nature of the characters and comparing them to characters of ours or people we knew that fit the trope (“Is that incredibly drunk cat Mar? That’s The Literal Best” “Cat Litero is weirdly competent and that’s kinda horrifying” “That grand vizier has Seen Some Stuff. You wonder how many times this has happened”).

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re very right that some women tend to be especially tolerant. If I recall the psychological studies on agreeableness correctly, men average 40 on a scale of 100, while women average 60 on the same scale. This is the greatest divergence between men and women in terms of personality; though a test I took shows that yours truly is far more agreeable than most of my sex and also of the fair sex, ranking 96 out of 100. So, I understand what you mean by tolerating a certain level of abuse. 🙂 In certain cases, it’s far more rational to tolerate stress than to lash; but, there is always the danger of too much resentment building up and then releasing the force of that resentment in an extreme manner. So, even agreeable people should speak their mind on occasion–as stressful as it is.

        The Cat Returns is great. Some day soon, it will number among my DVD collection. I’m glad that you enjoyed it.


  6. […] Brief Review of The Cat Returns (by medievalotaku at Medieval Otaku) […]

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ospreyshire says:

    That was one Ghibli flick I didn’t get to see. I’ve seen the director’s work with Bokurano, but not this film. I may have to check it out sometime.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Luminas says:

    Interesting responses, Medieval! It’s unfortunate that I can’t quite respond from my own posts, so I’ll do it here.

    On disabled people: It really began to get abnormally ugly in the 20th century; You’re right there. But the mid and late 19th century is when institutions and insane asylums were born. And the conditions pretty quickly shifted from passable to nightmarish as these places became overpopulated.

    It’s important, when thinking about disabled people, to not just think about the physically disabled. 19th century reformists and average folk rather pitied physically disabled people and the sick, although their pity itself had unfortunate consequences for those who ambitiously sought higher positions in society. The people they had zero pity for, and were prone to comparing Black people and people of other races to (negatively) were “my people” as it were: the developmentally and intellectually disabled. The people they referred to as “Mongoloids,” “idiots,” and “lunatics.” We were the ones who no one was exactly thrilled to see in polite society from its earliest eras.

    Now on women…

    “You say that women could essentially be preyed upon by men in the 19th century, but I can only imagine this to be true if the woman was utterly alone in the world.”

    Strangers aren’t so much the issue here. The people doing the “preying upon” were in fact the family members themselves. In a society where women were both persons *and* commodities, you were screwed if you and the person doing the “buying” had a falling out. Appearing as harmless, hopelessly incompetent, and feminine as possible was the only way to win. Even if it violated everything you were as a person. Being good at this or naturally rather timid could make you essentially invulnerable for doing your part to contribute to society, which is the part that actually appeals to me. But if you weren’t, sometimes through no fault of your own, you were in trouble.

    A husband who forced his wife to have sex, no matter how unpleasant or even violent said sex was, wasn’t seen as committing a rape at all, solely because she had agreed to do it with him generally. A woman who publically voiced opinions, ideas, and perspectives that contradicted those of her husband would quickly find not just him but the entire community against her, even if she had a point. A woman who deviated from what society expected of women would find herself in danger from said community as well, unless her husband held considerable political or social power and took her side. In a situation where you were violated, by, say, your husband’s best friend, if he believed his friend over you you’d not only be screwed, but accused of adultery. And in the case where you did, in fact, get violated by a complete stranger, you’d still often have to prove you resisted the assault and weren’t “asking for it.” (There are court cases from back then which shows exactly how badly this can play out.)

    Basically, if you were raped by someone up in your community with a good reputation, your best shot at getting retribution was, horribly enough, to accuse someone who didn’t do it, but *looked like they would.* Then all of a sudden you’d feel powerful for the first time in your life, the entire community at your back, for accusing an innocent man. You’d become a monster. See: lynchings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You well point out the problems which existed in regard to the mentally ill. I suppose that the attitude towards foreigners/people of other races and the mentally ill is comparable for one reason: fear of the unknown. Parents tell their children to avoid strangers because you have no idea what’s in their hearts. With the mentally ill, some exist in a different universe and deny what others see as custom or even self-evident truth. Not only does one fear such as a stranger but even as one fears a wild animal. It is sad to think that, in most mental institutions of the 19th – 20th century, the patients were treated more like animals than like human beings.

      Now, I do not understand where you get the idea that you belong to the class of people with mental problems, Luminas. You seem like a rational, if eccentric, person to me. Most mental problems of the sort rational people develop (anxiety, depression, despair, unusual phobias, lack of confidence, etc.) tend to be limitations to be overcome rather than permanent features. Even if you recognized an insane pattern of thought, the fact that you can recognize it as insane points to a core of sanity. Your ego, as it were, stands outside of the insanity rather than being possessed by it. The truly insane person is possessed by his insanity and does not realize it. Like the more usual mental afflictions rational people may suffer, a recognized pattern of insanity is a limitation which may be overcome. The only thing which would be insane in such a situation would be to cling to the limitation in the belief that you would cease to be yourself if you lost the limitation. In reality, the insane man who becomes sane also becomes more himself.

      This might also be illustrated by the seven deadly sins in that habits of vice are also habits of insanity, because a vice causes us to desire things beyond reason. The angry man is excessively passionate for his honor; the greedy man for wealth; the lustful man for sex; and the envious man about the goods of others. The greedy man is sick and not himself. When he is no longer greedy, he is more himself. He does not lose himself by ceasing to have an irrational desire for this world’s goods.

      As for the relationship between the sexes, I must confess that I was somewhat confused by your claim that women were easily preyed upon in the 19th century. Women were a commodity in the same way that diamonds, emeralds, and other jewels are a commodity: you keep them protected because they are valuable. Women had more security and less freedom. Conversely, men had more freedom and less security. If women possessed less agency, they were not considered as expendable as men. Certain trade-offs were made by the sexes based on nature and the needs of society. Since women bear higher reproductive costs, their roles tended to be restricted to the household. This was unfortunate in keeping them from the very highest roles in society, but it also kept them off the battlefield and out of other dangerous jobs. Society and the men who ran it were greatly motivated to keep women from harm. That is why 72% of female passengers survived the Titanic’s sinking but only 16% of the men.

      There are pluses and minuses to everything. Increased freedom for women is associated with more material prosperity for society. At the same time, women are generally unhappier these days than in decades prior, with housewives rating among the happiest of modern women. Society may be less racist and violent, but it also cares less in some ways about female security. Just compare the European authorities’ response to increased cases of rape committed by Muslim migrants–reminders that one can’t blame all Muslims and frequently overlooking cases of rape–to what would have likely happened in the 19th century. In gaining freedom, women have lost some of the security they used to have.

      When it comes to one man violating another’s wife or woman. Such cases do happen and just as often leads to the male perpetrator suffering a nasty end. The family is the basic unit of society, and men care more about their families than their friends. I do not imagine many men siding with their friend over their wife: “But the married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife, and his interests are divided,” (1 Cor 7″33-34). Also, women have a unique ability to make men miserable when they are displeased (“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” – Proverbs 25:24), which makes men motivated to please their wives. It’s not without good reason that Samuel Johnson wrote, “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” And, I cannot but imagine that some of the oppression felt by women throughout the centuries came at the hands of other women rather than men.


      • Luminas says:

        I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back here this time- circumstances being what they are, I’ve been pretty busy! If you’re still around, though, I’ve got a reply or two. I rather enjoy our discourse; Our aesthetic preferences are extremely similar and our views are quite different. (You’re part of the reason I’m so interested in watching Violet Evergarden.)

        “Now, I do not understand where you get the idea that you belong to the class of people with mental problems, Luminas. You seem like a rational, if eccentric, person to me.”

        Well, that’s just it. “Mental problems” and “insane” are not necessarily synonymous. I have what’s called a developmental disability. Which is to say that I perceive and interpret the world in a roughly rational manner, but the world that I actually see is a bit different from the world as seen by those without developmental disabilities. I cannot perceive nor interpret correctly the vast majority of gestures, and additionally facial expressions made with the eyes alone. I gravitated towards anime in part because the facial expressions of the characters are much more transparent and readable. My senses tend to be more aggressive towards me. Everything is “too bright” or “too itchy” or “too loud.” I also have difficulty planning, starting, or stopping actions. In other words, I exist in a more or less perpetual state of mild to moderate confusion and discomfort.

        Now…the adult me is a relatively ordinary taxpayer, aside from some interesting visual eccentricities. Odds are my adult self would adapt, maybe even easily given my present social class, to the 19th century. In some ways it would’ve been a heck of a lot less difficult, because I would end up performing a lot fewer tasks that my brain’s not thrilled with me doing. And “Mar was everywhere” in a world where most men in the same societal ‘place’ were gentleman professionals, so finding a rough human analog to love and admire and obey wouldn’t present the same problem. I’d have those two boys (my internal names are Jake and Timothy) that exist in my mind’s eye to raise by now. I’d probably be very happy.

        But ‘what I am now’ and ‘what I was’ are not the same. The child I was would have been institutionalized almost immediately. And many, many of my fellows with I/DD do not mesh well in that world even as adults. When I think of that world and its costs, I think mostly of them. And of the ‘others’ who were taken advantage of, right here in America.

        I think a lot of how you can have an unfulfilled wish that actively imposes suffering on others just outside your field of vision. That’s what that time is for me.


Legens, scribe sententias tuas.

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