So, if you’re a Ghibli enthusiast, you’ve probably seen a new anime movie recommended on your Netflix list called “A Whisker Away”. It was recently released worldwide on Netflix last June 18 because its release in Japanese theaters was canceled (due to the ongoing pandemic). With its English title very similar to Spirited Away, the Studio Colorido breakout anime film is also similar to it in terms of themes: transformation, talking creatures, and Neverland-esque places that protagonists may never escape from.
With famous director Junichi Sato (of Sailor Moon and Evangelion fame) and known screenwriter Mari Okada (you may know her from Mobile Suit Gundam and Rurouni Kenshin) at the helm, there were great expectations around A Whisker Away. But does it live up to the hype? The original Japanese title translated into English reads as “Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat”, the direct translation actually summarizes the movie.
Spoiler alert: plot discussion up ahead, so read at your own risk!
Middle school girl Miyo Sasaki is often teased by her classmates as Muge, which means, “Ultra Gaga”. It’s not hard to see why—her love for Hinode is too obvious as she butt-attacks him every morning and even jumps off from the roof, cat-like, to pounce on his bullies. After school, Muge dons a Noh or magical cat mask, loaned to her by a shady huge cat mask seller from the summer festival. Little does Hinode know that the white cat he cuddles with and calls “Taro” is actually Muge in cat form. It’s sweet but I admit it’s creepy.
Unfortunately for our bubbly heroine, Hinode hates human Muge and is actively avoiding her after her stunts call too much attention to him. Soon she is forced by the mask seller to turn into a cat forever (and stay by Hinode’s side) or to face her family issues and unrequited love as a human. Muge is a breath of fresh air to look at as both cat and human. As a human, she is filled to the brim with boundless energy, constantly climbing trees, running, and crash landing. Meanwhile, her cat counterpart is more demure. Her overall sunny disposition contrasts well with the quiet, suburban streets.
Huge spoilers ahead! The highlight of the movie is the emotional rollercoaster that Muge takes us on. One day, she’s overly giddy about Hinode sharing his lunch with her—the sun is shining and her form is gleaming in the light. In the next few days, she is rejected in public and she lashes out at her stepmother as a result of her tragic past (Muge’s mother abandons her at a young age). This causes her to run away from home. The hush of the steady rain and the muted earthy tones of the temples and forests darken the mood when Hinode begins his search for the missing Muge.
The overly cheerful human Muge wears a mask of her own; she never says what she truly feels and she struggles to tell Hinode she’s actually Taro. By the end of the movie, her achievement is not only about getting Hinode to fall in love with her (though he actually does). Although it seems like she’s permanently doomed to live out the rest of her shortened life as a cat, she regains her human form by accepting the love her family and friends have for the real her.
While the story reminds me of The Little Mermaid, Spirited Away, and Your Name all at once, and it’s purr-fect for a certain type of audience who are already fans of similar anime genres. The simple plot and brightly-colored visuals keep things light even as we’re presented with hard topics like abandonment, bullying, and death. It is a cute movie that will appeal to most anime fans and children who are old enough to sit through a Disney movie. In the last chapter of the movie, the protagonists get whisked away to Cat Island—a gigantic tree city inhabited solely by cats, all the way across an invisible bridge above the cityscape.
While it doesn’t quite live up to its similarly-named Studio Ghibli counterpart, A Whisker Away is more than just alright—it made me feel a variety of emotions. With the seamless blending of realistic and fantastical elements, A Whisker Away is a cute and sweet movie that inspires us to find a way back home to our true loves: family and friends. The Hinode Sunrise Attack at the end, of course, was adorable. If you can get past the creepiness of Muge being a cat so she can be cuddled by her crush, A Whisker Away is a delightful, wholesome movie with a lovely soundtrack, heartwarming romance, and imaginative visuals. I’d rate it a 3.8 out of 5. While I’m more of a dog person, this movie certainly clawed its way into my heart.
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