Rent-a-Cat – Review


Review by Joe Gordon, originally posted here, reposted with many thanks!

Well, as you may infer from the title, this is not a film for anyone who dislikes felines. That said you don’t have to be a cat lover to take enjoyment from this film (although it helps, those of us who are were sitting in the audience going aww at particularly cute kitty antics) as Naoko Ogigami’s film is a rather lovely, slow-paced, gentle look at life and urban loneliness in modern day Japan, how one can be living in a busy city with a huge population and yet remain isolated, alone despite being surrounded by people. And the wonderful power of our animals to enrich our lives; we know sometimes we may be projecting our own human emotions and motivations on them, but as anyone who has ever lived with animals knows they do seem to set up a familiar domestic habit with their humans, both ‘owner’ (not a title that really can apply to a cat, as anyone who lives with them knows) and pet settle into their rhythms around each other, making their own household, an ersatz extended family.

Sayoko lives alone in her small house, overlooked in her garden by her odd neighbour (who has a remarkable resemblance to a sort of Japanese Ronnie Corbett in drag). Since she was a child she’s never found it easy to make friends, let alone find romance, but while other humans don’t seem to warm to her for some reason cats do. Each day she pulls a small cart along near the river, crying out through a bull horn that if you are lonely she can rent you a cat. It’s not as bizarre a business idea as you might think (although some of the local schoolkids have already branded her as the crazy cat lady archetype) – I’ve read of professionally run cafés in Japan where cats live and the customers come not just for tea and cake but to stroke the cats, people who love animals but for whatever reason (not enough space, not allowed pets in their rented home, only staying a few months) they can’t have animals at home, so they come for the undeniable comfort that stroking a purring kitty can give.

One of Sayoko’s first customers we see is a very old lady, looking through the cats napping contentedly in her cart. She is taken straightaway not with the youngest or cutest but with a mature ‘grand old lady’ of a ginger cat, who reminds her very much of her own cat who has passed on. Her cat had helped her fill that awful hole after losing her husband, her son, we get the impression, is pretty distant from his elderly mum, and now with her beloved pet gone she is alone, the apartment empty, lifeless to her. When Sayoko checks her home to make sure it is suitable for cats she can see right away the old woman is perfect for this – she desperately wants another cat to bring some warmth and companionship into her life, but being so old she has decided pragmatically she can’t have one as who would look after it when she dies (a genuine worry for many elderly who value their animal companions even more than the rest of us)? But here she can have the cat from Sayoko and know she will come to take her home when the old lady is gone, that the kitty will still be looked after and loved – hearing this she knows the old woman has a good heart and that the cat will make her remaining weeks better. It’s incredibly touching and, animal lover or not, you’d have to be a brick not to feel empathy for the old woman’s situation and the pleasure she gets from the cat’s company.

The film moves through some more encounters with people in the city – a businessman who has to work away from his family and home and is lonely in his isolated city home, a young girl working dedicatedly away reciting her company mantra but realising she spends all day at work then at home mostly alone. Through her encounters Sayoko’s own faults and problems are as on show as much as those lonely souls she helps with her cats – on her own since her gran’s death (rather sweetly she talks to the departed old lady every day at her household shrine), she writes goals up for herself, such as find a husband, but has no idea how to attain them, tells her clients when she charges them only a pittance to rent the cats that she doesn’t need the money because she makes lots as a stockbroker playing the markets, or as a famous psychic. We can never really tell how much of this may be genuine and just how much is a Walter Mitty fantasy of Sayoko’s to make herself feel better.

Rent-a-Cat moves at a very slow pace and, like the pets who help to fill the holes in people’s lives, it doesn’t render a judgement on the poor, lonely humans who move through its scenes; they and their lives and flaws are simply presented as is and while you may not identify totally with any one character there are elements of each that pretty much all of us will recognise and empathise with. Sweet, gentle, moving and touching, a lovely little flower of a film that you should stop to inhale the scent from. Then go tickle a cat’s soft tummy afterwards.

Review by Joe Gordon. Check out the The Woolamaloo Gazette here.


Flicker – EIFF 2012 preview

Flicker (‘Flimmer’, Sweden, 2012, Dir. Patrik Eklund)

Flicker (Flimmer) is the eagerly awaited debut feature from Swedish writer/director Patrik Eklund. Brilliantly interwoven story is set in a small town called Beckberga around bunch of Unicom telecom workers.Two workers Roland and Jörgen gets caught up in an accident causing a powercut. Kenneth (Jacob Nordenson), lonely, over worked IT worker loses both his patience and his unsaved report during powercut. Birgitta (Anki Larsson), an office cleaner also at Unicom has severe arachnophobia. The unfortunate powercut triggers tragic and funny set of events somehow connects all these workers.

Another storyline running behind all the rest is about Unicom’s boss. He is desperate to give his struggling company a facelift. Completely out of his depth, also out of touch with modern times, decisions he takes makes a hilarious viewing. So is the anarchist group and their leader who fights against ever expending electromagnetic fields around them.

Eklund’s script is dotted with subtle but wonderful references to popular culture. It does need your full attention but balance between pacing and suspense during complex segments is just right. Opening sequence and the music also worth taking a notice.

Brilliantly imaginative, touching, black-comedy with full of heart and soul. Flicker will both make you laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes.

Screening as part of EIFF 2012:


Trailer (Swedish)

‘The King of Pigs’ update: subtitle comments EIFF 2012

It has been interesting seeing commentary since the first public screening of The King of Pigs, specifically with issues to do with the subtitles. While we noticed typos and grammatical errors with the translation, some have said this spoiled their experience of the film, others suggesting that made it almost unwatchable. These errors didn’t spoil our viewing, and we still stand by our high rating. Certainly, The King of Pigs has an anime-series-beat to it, as it were, and perhaps viewers expecting ‘Studio Ghibli’ would have a hard-time with the style – not helped by a complex story and poor subs.\n\nIt’s a real shame the undercurrent of negativity around the subs have tainted a film we love! We hope that the subtitles are fixed before any further public screenings, but we still think it’s an animation that should be watched.\n\nOur review can be found here: The King of Pigs.

Like anime? Visit our sister site, AnimePicks

If you’re a fan of Japanese animation (anime), you may want to pop over to our sister site, AnimePicks. AP covers the latest releases, with an extensive archive of reviews, coverage of anime conventions, collectables and Japanese culture.

UPDATE: Sadly AnimePicks is no more. It was a blast while it lasted!

The King of Pigs – EIFF 2012 Preview

Dae-gi-eui Wang (The King of Pigs), Dir. Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea, 2011

Drama in animations doesn’t come any more darker or grimmer than The King of Pigs which is based around bullying in school and social hierarchy. Failed businessman Kyung-Min gets in touch with his old schoolmate – a struggling writer- Jong-Suk in one evening. They’ve last seen each other 15 years ago. They start to recall their school days and how much brutal bullying they had to encounter until a loner student Chul stand by them. Set of flashbacks starts to slowly reveal gruesome details of their school life one by one. However, only audience knows about their current struggles in their lives as both Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk prefers to rather avoid the subject.

Bullying in classroom imposed by the ruling high-class rich students over their less fortunate poor classmates. Narrative regularly calls this difference visually, dogs – rich students versus pigs – poor ones. Brutality, violence is shocking at parts. Struggling to find a way out of this violence, Kyung-Min and Jong-Suk turn to Chul. He has a plan, according to him, to beat their tormenters, they need to be even more evil than those rich dogs, become a monster. Unfortunately, this plan set to change the coarse of their lives forever.

Debut feature by Yeun Sang-ho, The King of Pigs has distinctive, rough around the edges style, limited colour pallet intensifies the claustrophobic surroundings. Fans of anime might find its style of animation more similar to Group Tac’s Gilgamesh than Studio Ghibli. But it is done in much more cinematic way that you could easily be watching a movie. Voice acting is superb so is the characterisation – the anger, hate, frustration and the madness they portray disturbingly realistic. It is harrowingly tragic story about how lives of these young and innocent kids changed for the worse as a result of bullying and social inequalities.

The King of Pigs is shown as part of International competition at this year’s EIFF. It absolutely deserves every recognition and praise it receives, hopefully not only by fans of animation. Go see it!

Screenings (part of EIFF):



Update June 24: Comments on Subtitles

Rent-a-Cat – EIFF 2012 Preview

Rent-a-Cat (Rentaneko)’s title itself  is certainly intriguing enough to attract both curious audiences and cat lovers. However, plot isn’t so much of an odd concept in fact cat petting cafes in Japan aren’t particularly unusual.

We start to follow Sayoko in a sunny day, carting around her cats in the hope of renting them out to lonely people. Sayoko lives alone in a house full of cats, trying to stay motivated about her future ambitions. She seems to attract cats like her late grandma used to but not able to have any meaningful human contact she desperately seeks. Sayoko’s love and care for her grandma is very sweet and touching, narrative captures her own loneliness well. We were intrigued by Sayoko’s house, it was certainly as eccentric as herself, felt cozy, warm and full of memories.

Sayoko continues each day to walk the river trying to rent her cats to lonely people. Because of the story’s simple premise, the middle of the movie does get a bit too repetitive and suffers. Quirky strangers she encounters are sort of predictable until she stumbles upon a rent-a-car shop after seeing a very similar dream earlier. In fact that dream sequence is the best part of the movie. Sayoko’s dream refers to how modern day consumer bury their sorrows in top quality goods just to satisfy their unhappiness.

Near the end of the movie director Naoko Ogigami doesn’t follow the easy predictable path which is satisfying. Rent-a-Cat has the same easy going, funny, oddball feeling as 2006’s Kamome Diner, bunch of middle-aged Japanese women re-establish their life in Helsinki which was a very enjoyable film.

I’d definitely go see this sweet and touching movie. However if you are more of a dog person be aware of cute cat fluffiness you might drag back home with you.

Screenings (part of EIFF):