Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Writer: Reiko Yoshida
Studio Ghibli films are often filled with the inexplicable, but The Cat Returns may feature the most disturbing premise. Shy high school student Haru saves the life of a cat on her way home from school one day. The cat happens to be Prince Lune, heir to the Cat Kingdom, and the king attempts to show Haru his gratitude by sending her a series of unwanted gifts—culminating in the hand of Prince Lune in marriage.
As a child, I may have found the idea of a human’s marrying a cat a bit unusual, but not as troubling as I do as an adult. There are certain connotations and, well, logistics that present some problems. The film ignores these issues for a considerable amount of time until the cats reveal they do, in fact, have a solution. (Spoiler alert!) They are going to turn Haru into a cat, as well. Viewers might be conflicted as to whether they find this plan relieving, or almost as troubling as the initial proposal.
Beyond all this, however, the movie is pretty fun—a crazy adventure where two cats from the Cat Bureau attempt to help Haru escape from the clutches of the Cat King back into her own world. Exactly why Haru is told to seek the aid of the Cat Bureau is unclear, because they seem to have no relevant experience working in the Cat Kingdom. In fact, beyond “helping people,” their mission statement and job are unclear. However, their skills in intrigue and battle turn out to be extensive, and it makes their escape effort truly exciting to watch.
However the fun and the art are not the only points. By narrowly avoiding life as a cat, Haru learns to know herself and to believe in herself. She becomes confident and independent and is even brave enough to tell one of her rescuers she thinks she is beginning to like him. (He happens to be a cat, too, so the oddity of the film never really ends, but it is something one ultimately grows to accept, or just ignore.)
The Cat Returns is not my favorite Studio Ghibli film. There are ones with characters I like better and with more interesting premises, but it is a movie worth watching for Miyazaki fans, and for cat lovers.