It is dangerously tempting, and probably true to an extent, to describe Japanese cat-themed films as the perfect feel-good movies to curl up to with your furry feline companion purring by your side. However, that is also an understatement to the scopes of these movies as they offer a lot more than just relaxing and heartwarming entertainment. Symbolizing good fortune and protective power, for centuries, cats have played significant roles in Japanese culture, folklore, art, and, media, and most importantly, the daily lives of Japanese people. This is why cat-related movies offer a deep and personal look into different aspects of people’s daily life in Japan such as self-discovery, death of a loved one, loneliness, aging, social reclusion, etc., and sometimes these movies are the best ways to convey social messages in a subtle yet effective way. Whether you are a cat lover or simply an Asian film fan looking to broaden your horizon through an interesting subgenre, the movies below are not to be missed!
The Cat Returns (Japanese Title: Neko no Ongaeshi) (2002)
Genre: Fantasy, Family, Animation
A 17 year old girl saves the life of a cat, who happens to be the Prince of the Cat Kingdom. As a reward, the Cat King offers the girl to be married to the Cat prince, which she does not want. The longer she stays in the Cat Kingdom the more cat-like she becomes, losing her human self. With the help of a cat baron from the Cat Bureau and other feline friends, she must discover herself in order to escape from the Cat Kingdom and to stop herself from turning into a cat permanently.
Notable Cat in the movie:
Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Voiced by: Yoshihiko Hakamada and Shigeru Tsuyuguchi)
No other cat (or a human, for that matter) can rock a suit, bowtie, and a hat like Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, The Baron does, who works in the Cat Bureau in this movie. He appeared for the first time in this movie’s indirect prequel “Whispers of the Heart”, and he was so popular that he was given a more major role in the spin-off “The Cat Returns”.
Quote by the cat: “Always believe in yourself. Do this and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear” – Baron Humbert von Gikkingen
Rent-a-Cat (Japanese Title: Rentaneko) (2012)
Genre: Comedy, drama
The movie is about a single woman Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa)’s rent-a-cat business and the people she comes to know through her business.
On the surface, this movie is a quaint, light-hearted comedy but as you delve deeper, this movie as a whole serves as a social commentary on an important topic: loneliness. Thanks to the genius of director Naoko Ogigami (well known for Kamome Diner, and Megane), and her style that is "iyashi-kei" or "providing emotional healing”, and of course the sheer charm of the adorable and often comedic scenes of human-cat interaction, this movie stays charming and heartwarming even when the topic it deals with is a serious one.
Samurai Cat Film series (Japanese Title: Neko Zamurai)
2014: Samurai Cat (Neko Zamurai)
2015: Neko Samurai 2: A Tropical Adventure | Neko Zamurai Minami no Shima e iku
Genre: History, Action, Comedy
Kyutaro (Kazuki Kitamura), who is a ronin (masterless samurai) is given the task by a dog-loving gang leader to assassinate a cat. He accepts the offer for money but fails to assassinate “Tamanojo”, the irresistibly adorable white cat, and ends up befriending the cat. Bring together sword-wielding Japanese samurai warriors, the rivalry between a dog-loving gang and a cat-loving gang, and the companionship between a white, fluffy cat and a humorless Samurai, and you have Samurai Cat – a true guilty pleasure movie for any cat-loving Asian film fan.
Finding Calico (Japanese Title: Sensei To Mayoi Neko) (2015)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Retired and widowed school principal Kyoichi (Issey Ogata) is eccentric, cranky, reclusive, and is living on his own after the death of his wife. He hates the cat “Mii” whom his wife used to adore and feed and tries to shoo it away every time it comes to visit him, as Mii reminds him of his wife’s death. But one day when Mii suddenly stops coming to his house, he sets on a journey to find Mii – a journey along which he revisits the love and memory of his wife and reconnects with the members of his town.
The Island of Cats (Japanese Title: Neko To Jiichan) (2019)
A real chicken soup for the soul and a mental vacation, this movie is set on a small rural island in Japan where the main inhabitants are old people and cats. Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa) is a 70 year old widower - born, raised, and living on this island with his cat “Tama”. Although he misses his wife and his son is living in Tokyo far away from him, he is content with the familiarity surrounding him and spends quiet, gentle life with his childhood friends and the cats on the island. However, through the course of the movie, things start to change slowly and in small ways and he starts to learn to live with the fact that things will not stay the same way forever.
The director of the movie, Mitsuaki Iwago, has a career of more than 40 years of wildlife photography and filming and has been a part of a TV program “Mitsuaki Iwago’s World CATS Travelogue”, in which he films cats from all over the world. His expertise and experience are clearly visible throughout the movie; even the simplest of the scenes showing the cats are beautifully framed and add to their subtle personification.
Quote by the Cat: “I am Tama, a Cat. And this is my servant, Daikichi(referring to his owner).” – Tama
Gu Gu the Cat (Japanese Title: Gū-Gū Datte Neko de Aru) (2008)
Based on a popular autobiographical manga series of the same name by Yumiko Oshima, which was later adapted into a TV series, this story is about a manga artist Asako (Kyoko Koizumi) who falls into an artistic and emotional downward spiral when her cat companion of 15 years ‘Ca Va’ passes away. This is where a new cat “Gu Gu” comes into her life and starts to change her life in a positive direction.
If Cats Disappeared from the World (Japanese Title: Sekai kara neko ga kietanara ) (2016)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Make sure to grab your tissue boxes for this one as this movie starring Takeru Satoh (the popular actor from Rurouni Kenshin) is an absolute tear-jerker. The movie is based on an internationally known novel of the same name by Genki Kawamura.
After receiving a terminal diagnosis, a young postman played by Takeru Satoh makes a deal with the devil to have his life prolonged by one day each time he chooses one thing to be removed completely from this world. He starts with things such as phones and clocks but hits a dead end when he has to decide whether to remove cats from the world.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles (Japanese Title: Tabineko ripôto) (2018)
A good-hearted young man Satoru (Sota Fukushi, you might know him from Kamen Rider and Bleach), and his sassy, yet loyal pet, cat Nana (voiced by Mitsuki Takahata) sets off on a road trip to find a new home for Nana. Although this movie deals with life's major difficulties, and might even make you shed lots of tears, it is a poignant, touching story that depicts the strength of the bond between a pet owner and the pet.
Quote by the Cat: "I want to be your cat until the end!" - Nana
Did you find your favorite Japanese cat-related movies here? What are your favorite movies about cats? Let us know in the comments!