Cat films seem to have become a tradition at Fantasia. They’re certainly a tradition in Japan! As the title might suggest, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is both a cat film and a road movie, though the cat does not wander around by himself doing good deeds, like the dog in the long ago Littlest Hobo TV series. The film is based on a book by Hiro Arakawa.
Nana the cat rides in relative comfort in a car with a young man named Satoru. In a voice over, Nana explains that five years ago he was very badly injured after being hit by a car and he probably would have died if Satoru had not taken him to the vet.
Now the two are hitting the roads of Japan, driving many miles to visit friends from Satoru’s younger days to find a new home for Nana. Even though Satoru talks to Nana a lot, he has not explained why this is necessary, so poor Nana is feeling sad, angry and rejected. Nana talks to Satoru and to the audience, through the voice of actress Mitsuki Takahata. Nana is often quite cranky, unlike Akiko, the bubbly character Takahata plays in Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. Satoru is played by Sota Fukushi, who is cuter than the cat.
Anyone who has watched enough Japanese films might guess why Nana will need a new home, but I’m not going to spell it out!
(About that name – it’s just one of the many things that Nana is cranky about. Even though he’s a male cat, Satoru gave him a name that is usually female, because the cat’s tail is hooked like the number seven and nana is one of the ways of saying seven in Japanese. Nana mutters that it’s not a very original way to choose a name. He has the same opinion about Hachi, the name of a beloved cat in Satoru’s youth.
Nana’s thoughts and Satoru’s chats with his friends lead us quite naturally to some flashbacks. We learn more about how Nana and Satoru met, that Satoru’s parents were truly nice people, while his childhood friend, Kosuke, had a selfish, demanding and nasty father. In fact, Kosuke’s father is still nasty, but (small spoiler!) after reviewing the past with Satoru, Kosuke decides that he won’t let his father push him around any more. There are more epiphanies to come.
Kosuke is willing to adopt Nana, but Satoru decides it’s not such a good idea after all, and he and Nana get back in the car. Time to visit the next candidate!
As the film continues, we learn more and more about Satoru’s life and his attitude toward it. Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons! Satoru would probably make a lemon meringue pie and it would be delicious, too! Satoru is always trying to extract something positive, even from sad, nay, tragic events. This extreme optimism might seem corny, or difficult to take seriously, but actor Sota Fukushi sells it.
A man and his cat, a boy and his cat. I can’t recall seeing or hearing those words often, have you? I’ve never heard someone called a “cat man” much less a “crazy cat man,” either. The Travelling Cat Chronicles gives men permission to enjoy cats, to love them, even, if such permission is actually needed. Viewers who don’t already have a cat might feel an urge to adopt one after watching this film.
Oh, bring some tissues (Kleenex®) for wiping your eyes, too.
Cat-related tidbit: Takuro Ohno, who plays Satoru’s friend Shusuke Sugi, has the leading human role in Neko Ninja, a 2017 film about a ninja who thinks that his missing father has shapeshifted into a cat.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles (Tabineko Ripoto)
In Japanese with English subtitles
Directed by Koichiro Miki
Written by Emiko Hiramatsu, Hiro Arikawa
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Alice Hirose, Ryosuke Yamamoto, Takuro Ohno, Shota Taguchi, and the voice of Mitsuki Takahata