‘A Whisker Away 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる’ is an Enchanting Expedition of Self-Discovery
A girl falls in love with a boy from her school, and transforms into a cat to get close to him. But these choices come with consequences, and eventually, the line dividing cat and human becomes vague.
Directors: Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama
Cast: Mirai Shida, Natsuki Hanae, Hiroaki Ogi
Runtime: 104 minutes
When I heard that Netflix would be releasing a feline-focused anime film, I knew I had to check it out. To say that I love cats would be an understatement. So going into A Whisker Away 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる, I already had a hunch that I would enjoy it, at least for the cats. On top of that however, directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama offer up much more than cat cuteness.
A Whisker Away is a slice of life film that incorporates whimsical fantasy elements. Miyo (Mirai Shida) is a bubbly and seemingly happy-go-lucky student who has a huge crush on her enigmatic classmate, Hinode (Natsuki Hanae). She is head over heels for him, and she is not afraid to show it. It’s nice to see a protagonist who breaks away from the usual portrayal of a timid schoolgirl in front of her crush. Miyo often goes out of her way to get Hinode’s attention, much to her best friend’s frustration, as Hinode doesn’t seem to be interested in her.
Up until this point, it seems like a straightforward teen rom-com. But then we are introduced to a magical world, where humans can become cats and vice versa through masks. To get Hinode’s affection, Miyo transforms herself into her feline alter ego, Taro.
It’s revealed that Miyo’s life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and that her merry personality is simply a guise she’s put up after some painful experiences in her life. The metaphorical parallel here is clear, as Miyo eventually decides that it may just be better to remain a cat. The literal translation of the Japanese title, 泣きたい私は猫をかぶる, is actually Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat. After all, life as Miyo is full of facades.
It’s a bit worrisome that Miyo’s decision to remain as Taro is seemingly simply for Hinode’s affection, though. But I can overlook this as part of a young girl’s journey to genuine self-discovery. Hinode has become Miyo’s escape mechanism, and she naively thinks that he is the key to her happiness. This is an all too familiar part of growing up, isn’t it? We don’t always know what we want and need in our life, but as we grow, we eventually figure it out.
The emotions that come with growing up and self-discovery can be profound, yet they’re often hard to put into words. The film’s soundtrack, however, captures the essence of such inexplicable feelings perfectly. From heart-fluttering excitement to melancholy, A Whisker Away articulates what can’t be said with music. This is perhaps my favourite aspect of the film, except for the cats, of course.
The film can be a bit on the nose with the lessons it appears to impart its audience – that we don’t always know what someone is going through despite their outward behaviour and appearance. But personally, it’s this simplicity that makes the film enjoyable. It’s an easy and delightful watch. Besides, the rules and dynamics of the human-cat transformation (and vice versa) raises enough questions. This isn’t really explained, and after questioning this for a while, I’ve concluded that that’s just how magic works and I should just take it as it is.
The community of cats is what initially draws you in the film, but it’s the exploration of the universal encounter with self-discovery that keeps you engrossed. A Whisker Away intermingles light-hearted fun with coming-of-age experiences that can be difficult to tackle otherwise. Characters learn how to communicate with each other and reckon with their own emotional pain, all part and parcel of growing up.
A Whisker Away is available for streaming on Netflix.