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‘The Island of Cats’ Provides Blissful Repose from Our Frantic Daily Living

19 March 2020

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‘The Island of Cats’ Provides Blissful Repose from Our Frantic Daily Living

(Image credit: Klock Worx)

A seventy-year-old widowed man named Daikichi lives on a small island with his beloved pet cat. He is a local, a native, enjoys his home and spending time with that cat and old friends. His own son has done what many local youngsters have. The son has moved to Tokyo. However, change is eternal and friends are dying of old age, the environment is changing and old age creeps up and makes folk infirm. The old man has to contend with this change.

Director: Mitsuaki Iwago

Cast: Shinsuke Tatekawa, Kou Shibasaki, Kaoru Kobayashi, Gin Pun Chou

Year: 2019

Country: Japan

Language: Japanese

Runtime: 103 mins


We could all use a little break from all our hectic lives, and the unease because of the recent coronavirus outbreak is not helping. Chancing upon The Island of Cats ねことじいちゃん amongst all this was a pleasant discovery. Director Mitsuaki Iwago’s gentle film provides some repose that we could all use right now. Based on the manga series ‘Neko to Jichan (Cat and Grandpa)’ by Nekomaki, the film is a heart-warming tale of life’s simple pleasures.

(Image credit: Klock Worx)

The Island of Cats is set on an island, following the daily life of Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa) and his cat, Tama.  Life on the island moves leisurely, where most people just occupy their time by chatting with their neighbours and fishing.  The opening scene is “narrated” by Tama, setting the warm, feel-good atmosphere of the film. We meet an ensemble of characters, many of whom are elderly, who share the same love for homeliness and their feline friends. 

Most of the people on the island have been there their whole lives, and rarely get people moving in from the city. Michiko (Kou Shibasaki) comes along, who recently moved to the island from Tokyo, and sets up a cafe. This cafe eventually becomes a central spot for the community to socialise and spend time with each other. 

Even the numerous cats on the island themselves seem to have their own community and sentiments. One of my favourite parts of the film is Tama and Mi’s (another cat owned by Daikichi’s neighbour) adorable interactions seemingly blossoming into what I want to believe as romance. What makes it even more precious is that Mi seems to play hard to get, but Tama remains by her side even when tragedy strikes. There may be obstacles that come in the way, but the unwavering loyalty of the cats appear to represent the idea that life goes on regardless. 

(Image credit: Klock Worx)

While the film is gentle and straightforward, it does not fall behind worthwhile character and plot development. We get invested in people’s endearing relationships, such as Daikichi and his grumpy best friend Iwao (Kaoru Kobayashi), and the old ladies who constantly bicker but are still inseparable. 

There is also some romance developing between both the young and the old, adding on to the feel good factor. But Iwago also features the more sombre realities of life, which grounds the film to not run the risk of being too idyllic. 

Iwago is a renowned wildlife photographer, and I could identify this professional eye in his serene depiction of the cats particularly. The cats’ unspoken stories and sentiments are communicated with excellent use of sound and music complementing his visuals. Dare I say the sound design could tell a story on its own. It does sometimes tend to come across as more of an animal documentary and food show, but Iwago wins me over with his sufficiently fleshed out narrative, and not to mention the fact that cats are irresistible. 

(Image credit: Klock Worx)

Much of the things to say about The Island of Cats is that it is a wholesome movie that doesn’t call for too much reflection and contemplation on themes and meanings. This can surely be done, but Iwago highlights the beauty of simplicity. Watching the film suspends your worries even just for a while, as if you are on the island itself. 

This is a much needed change of pace that we could all use. In the end, Daikichi provides a hopeful message that “the best is yet to come”. With the outbreak situation keeping everyone on edge, this sentiment may be difficult to relate with right now. But the film reminds us to take heart in one’s community, and hopefully, we can recover. This may take some time, but it will. In the meantime, let’s focus on the cats. 

The Island of Cats is available for streaming on HBO GO here. 

Check out the trailer below: 

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