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The Cat Returns Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Studio Ghibli.
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The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime film directed by Hiroyuki Morita and produced by Studio Ghibli. It was spawned from an earlier Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart (1995), which depicted short scenes of fantasy elements from the story that the protagonist, a young girl, was writing about, and these scenes became so popular with fans that they demanded a movie be made of Shizuku’s novel.

At first Studio Ghibli was approached in 1999 by a Japanese theme park, who requested to have them write a 20-minute short starring cats. Hayao Miyazaki wanted this short to have three key elements: Baron, Muta, and a mysterious antique shop. Later, the short was scraped as the theme park canceled the project, but nonetheless Studio Ghibli continued with the project, making a new story drawing from the short and the manga that Aoi Hiiragi had been commissioned to write as an equivalent to the short, which was written from Shizuku’s perspective, roughly years in her future. This manga was translated into English and published by VIZ Media as Baron: The Cat Returns.

This is just a rough and somewhat brief summary of the history of The Cat Returns, and if you are interested to read any additional information, please read the Wikipedia page.

Aside from the characters of Baron and Muta and the antique shop, this story is entirely its own, and hardly relates to Whisper of the Heart or Shizuku’s story, but it is still a wonderful story.

Summary

Haru is a seventeen-year-old girl, a quiet and unassuming high school student who has a unique ability to talk to cats that has been long suppressed. She isn’t well-organized: sleeping in on a weekday and is usually late for class; she is also low in self-esteem and confidence. She is sometimes depressed that she doesn’t have a boyfriend like her friend.

After an ordinary day of school, on the way home with her friend discussing boys and suchlike, they observe a strange, odd-eyed cat waiting to cross the street holding a parcel in its mouth. As they watch, the traffic starts moving just as the cat accidentally drops the parce. In a desperate, heroic feat, Haru runs across the street and rescues the cat with her, and just narrowly avoid being hit by a truck. She then discovers that she rescued a very important cat: Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom. Her friend doesn’t believe the cat spoke to Haru and thinks that maybe Haru hit her head.

At home, Haru asks her mother if cats can talk, and a recalled memory of when Haru was a little girl. A dirty and malnourished kitten had been following Haru and in an act of kindness, Haru gave the rest of the package of fish-shaped biscuits (maybe taiyaki?) to it. Her mother also recalls that Haru had told her that she had spoken to the kitten.

Haru goes to sleep but wakes up in the middle of the night, and when she looks out her window she sees a procession of cats walking on their hind legs, and they stop at her house. Natori, the bespectacled advisor of the Cat King – a creepy, ill-groomed large cat with odd eyes – gives Haru a scroll and declares that tomorrow many gifts of gratitude will be showered upon her. Haru merely nods, not knowing what she’s gotten into.

Next morning, she wakes up late again for school, but this particular morning has already started off unusual: in their front yard catnip has grown and her mother has to lay down – she thinks she hasn’t had enough sleep. When Haru woke up, she got a phone call from her friend, and the reason for the call: hundreds of rackets are all over the place.

Haru hurriedly runs down the street to school and as she does so, many cats start following her – being attracted to the catnip on her clothes. They follow her to school and when she arrives and goes to her locker, small boxes fall out, and they start moving. A second later, the boxes open, and dozens of mice emerge. She freaks out and the cats appear, chasing the mice.

She finally arrives in class and she begins studying the scroll she got the previous night, and she now realizes that it wasn’t a dream. She stays after school, doing clean up, and while doing so Haru glimpses the pretty young girl that the boy that she likes. One of the cats, named Natoru, Haru sees, and angrily shakes her. (In the Japanese version, Natoru is female, yet in the English version for some reason she was voiced as a male.) Natoru happily tells her all that’s happened but soon discovers that Haru didn’t like the gifts. Suddenly, Haru is offered Prince Lune’s hand in marriage, and before she knows it, Natoru has ran off, telling her that they’ll pick her up tonight, as she took Haru’s mixed reply as being affirmative.

Haru panics and is in a desperate situation and is unhappy with the new developments. A female voice speaks to her, telling her to go to the Cat Bureau. Haru finds a large, fat cat named Muta, whose name is parodied throughout the film due to his excessive size. He leads her to the Cat Bureau and there she meets the owner, Baron, full name: Baron Humbert von Giggingen, and Toto, a statue raven that comes to life much like Baron.

Haru explains her predicament and they discuss it over tea. Baron decides its time to visit the Cat Kingdom and they prepare to go, but Haru is suddenly whisked away by cats. Baron, riding Toto, and Toto carrying Muta chase after them, and Muta is thrown in the direction of the cats, intended to be caught by them, but they avoid him. He angrily runs after them and just manages to jump on – almost exceeding the weight limit.

Baron and Toto are forced to follow them in the human world, as Haru and Muta travel to the Cat Kingdom through portals. They finally find the Cat Kingdom: five islands in the shape of a cat paw.

There, Haru slowly becomes catlike and she is treated to a feast and entertainment, but she is too miserable to even care or take notice. Earlier, prior to the feast and entertainment, Muta gorged himself on the food and apparently drowned in a large vessel of catnip jelly and he was wheeled to the banquet. Haru is suddenly asked to a dance by a mysterious persona, whom is soon revealed to be Baron.

They make a desperate escape from the banquet amidst the confusion that ensues and the vessel containing Muta smashes, thus freeing the large cat, who attacks the cat soldiers, giving the Baron and Haru a chance to escape, with help from a royal servant, a white, blue-eyed cat named Yuki.

After being reunited with Muta, they go off to the tower – the portal to the human world and the only way Haru can go home. They are almost defeated by the King but Prince Lune comes home all of a sudden after some campaign and tells his father that he doesn’t intend to marry Haru, but Yuki. It is explained that Yuki is in fact the little kitten that Haru had helped years earlier, and in return Yuki has helped Haru. Another thing revealed is that Muta is actually a cat that has visited, or rather terrorized, the Cat Kingdom before: Renaldo Moon! According to legend, he emptied an entire lake of fish, and took off afterwards.

After some difficulties, Haru finally makes it back to the human world with the help of Baron and Toto. She thanks them and he replies that if she should ever need help again, all she must simply do is call and reminds her that she can visit as often as she likes. Haru confesses that she might have developed a slight crush on Baron.

It’s the weekend and Haru’s mother wakes up. She comes down, a little groggy, and is surprised to see Haru already up and even made breakfast! Haru is very mature and she soon goes out to visit her friend, who tells her that the boy she was interested in dumped the girl, and that if Haru wants to go out with him she’s more than welcome. But Haru doesn’t mind anymore – it doesn’t matter. Her friend is surprised about this new development and doesn’t understand. As they walk by, they pass Muta who is snoozing on one of the chairs at an outside café table.

Hero’s Journey

As it has been noted in many Studio Ghibli films, the protagonist often goes through a journey of transformation and self-discovery. At the start of the film, Haru isn’t very confident and is often unsure of herself; but by the end of the film, she has matured considerably and cannot compare to her old self, as her journey and her relationship with Baron has had an obvious affect on her.

The Cat Returns (Original Japanese Trailer)

Images

Muta
Haru and the Baron The Baron

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Comments»

1. Leonargo - Monday, June 6, 2011

Just saw this!!! Love the movie, and Baron is spectacular!


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