With his first feature film, Reiki Tsuno sets out to break the ‘tradition’ within the Japanese indie scene to create depressive, serious, and melancholic cinema. He wants to prove that, even with a limited budget, one can make an exciting and flashy cinematic experience. Luckily, he is not alone in this enterprise. Yugo Sakamoto, who made Baby Assassins (2021) and Yellow Dragon Village (2021), already proved that, even with a limited budget, one can make exciting action-comedies.
Ever since his brother, the archaeologist Mune Kurosawa (So Yamanaka) went missing, Taka Kurosawa (Sho Mineo) has lived a miserable live. He has no energy to find a job to pay the rent and whiles away the time in his dirty and cluttered trailer by drinking beer and sleeping.
One day, he receives an envelope with an orange tape from his landlady (-). Listening to the tape, he learns that his brother is being held at the place where they found a black cat. She asks him to save him, avoid being seen by those he keep him locked up, and steal their wooden box. Sadly, he has no idea that the enemies he faces are linked with the amputated head that was sent to the headquarters of Furry Friends, a pet shop chain, and the serial murders of pet shop owners.
Mad Cats is a narrative that, beyond exploring, in a creative way, the destruction and injuries human selfishness and a singular focus on financial gain cause, celebrates the powerful and singular bond that can come into being between a cat and his owner.
Tsuno touches upon both thematical sides via a narrative fabric that fluidly interweaves moments of tension with fitting bursts of light-heartedness. The eruptions of light-heartedness, either due to Sho Mineo’s pleasant over-acting, the delivery of narrative or visual pun-like effects, or by effectively subverting the spectator’s expectations, work surprisingly well in the narrative because they never feel forced – they fluidly erupt from the flow of the narrative and the visual rhythm. This fluid integration of subtle comical moments, furthermore, ensures that the touching moments within Mad Cats do not lose their impact.
Right from the get-go, by perceiving the various hints within the narrative (e.g. KITY radio, Purr lager, YumYum Catness food, … etc.), the spectator realizes that the anatomy of Mad Cats is quite absurd. At the centre of everything that happens to our protagonist and his two companions, a homeless guy called Takezo (Yuya Matsuura) that inadvertently helps him combat a violent beast-like woman and a mysterious woman Ayane (Ayane) that saves him from being decapitated, is none other than a mysterious treasure, the forbidden Catnip of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. By retrieving the wooden box containing the catnip that, according to the legend, can grant any cat that bites it special powers, Taka incurs the persecution by cat-monsters that loathe humanity for their ongoing exploitation of felines and their (un)intentional failure to satisfy their needs.
The biggest obstacle that Taka faces is his own cowardice. Yet, it is important to read his cowardice as being function of a belief in his inability to change things for the better. The fatalistic fantasy that chains and inhibits him echoes through every explanatory signifier he utters and every fighting-act he tries to perform. The presence of such fatalistic prison allows us to understand why he, without much thought, embarks on the dangerous task of rescuing his brother. Is his lost brother not, in a certain sense, the key he seeks to free himself from his miserable chained existence?
The attentive spectator will notice that Mad Cats creates a contradiction. While Mune might be the key to unchain his subject, he needs to break his chains to be able to deal with the monstrous cats. Yet, what can allow him to overcome his cowardice and break his fatalistic prison to gamble on his own ability to save his brother and quell the mad vengeful cats threatening humanity?
The composition of Mad Cats is a testament to Reiki Tsuno’s vision and talent. He has not only created a composition that, by using depth-of-field in his shots and draping the spaces of his narrative in appealing colours and soft lightning contrasts, is visually pleasing but also engaging by fluidly shifting the composition’s visual rhythm. It is, for example, through such shifts that Tsuno can heighten the tension in the narrative whenever necessary, reverberate the emotional turmoil within his characters, and can give the well-choreographed action-sequences their exhilarating flair.
Of course, the effectivity of the tensive and emotional moments as well as the satisfaction delivered by the action-sequences are not merely function of Tsuno’s compositional play. What truly makes the composition of Mad Cats come alive in those moments is Yuki Hotta’s musical accompaniment (e.g. the subtly threatening pieces, the more bombastic heroic music, … etc.) and the thoughtful littering of sound-effects (e.g. miaowing cats).
Moreover, Tsuno does not forget to weave in many visually pleasing moments within his composition. These moments are either created by elegantly exploiting the geometrical field, i.e. by playing with symmetry and asymmetry, or by heightening the compositional tension within the frame by offering visual contrasts.
Mad Cats is one hell of a ride, one satisfying exploration of the strength of the bond between a cat and its owner. Reiki Tsuno elegantly blends character-related silliness with situational tension to delivers a dose of cinematic pleasure that does not only provides the laughs but also engages the spectator with well-choreographed action. Highly recommended.