We had the opportunity to watch many great films at the Busan International Film Festival. We have decided to release a new film review once a day, so make sure to keep checking back with us and see what film we are talking about!
Original Title: レンタネコ (Rentaneko)
Genres:Comedy, Drama, Slice-of-life
Main Cast:Ichikawa Mikako
- Screened at the Busan International Film Festival 2012 as part of the “A Window on Asian Cinema” Section
- Made its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2012.
- There is actually a service in Japan that offers cats for rent to individuals who might require it.
A quirkily optimistic young woman, Sayoko (portrayed with an idiosyncratic yet whimsical charm by the ever reliable Ichikawa Mikako) lives in a shambling home with a dozen or so cats, amidst picturesque surrounds. She spends her days wandering through her small town renting out her cats to various lost souls who are searching for some vestige of solace in their listless existences.
Told in a series of short vignettes in which Sayoko enters the intermittent lives of an eclectic collection of eccentric characters, such as an old woman who recently lost her husband and her cat, and now lives alone; a salary-man who had to move away from his family due to work; an office lady whiling away her hours at a seemingly dead-end job, yearning for an escape; and a young drifter who has a connection to Sayoko’s past.
Each individual is missing something indefinable from their respective lives, but Sayoko seems to have an uncanny knack of finding just what is required to fill this hole and offering a simple life platitude to sum it all up in turn.
Yet beneath this veneer of often poignant hilarity is a tale of everyday loneliness and a young woman seeking some form of lasting connection in this so-called world of ours.
The Good, The Bad, and The Surprising
Written and directed by Ogigami Naoko, best known for her quietly comic slice-of-life film Kamome Shokudo (Seagull Diner) – a story about a middle-aged Japanese woman looking for a fresh start in a foreign land, who decides to set-up a small cafe in Helsinki, Finland. At first struggling to attract customers, she encounters a collection of interesting characters along the way and eventually finds a formula that works by deciding to serve up simple Japanese “soul-food”, in the form of onigiri (rice balls).
This film established Ogigami’s sparse yet deliberate style, her quirkily idiosyncratic sense of humor, and her decidedly whimsical world view. She continued with this winning formula through her next project – Megane (Glasses) – in which she managed to capture, with rare insight, the gentle yearnings for a simpler and less-hurried existence. This ability to encapsulate the common conundrums of everyday existence with humor and verve, and wrap it all up in the trappings of a glossy magazine catalog, seemed to resonate strongly with the (largely female) audience of her generation, who shared similar concerns. This has formed the core of her appeal ever since, and established fan’s of Ogigami’s oeuvre will not be disappointed with her latest offering, in which she frames her patently insightful and humorous glimpses into the vagaries of everyday life, skewed through the lens of her decidedly unique point of view.
Rent-a-cat is directed with her trademark attention to detail, and the production values adhere to her usual standards. Sayoko’s shambling yet perfectly cobbled-together home suitably reflects the eccentricities of its occupant, and her quirky fashionable wardrobe – that can be best described as recycled-bohemian-sheik – is particularly winning. These are certainly not the trappings one would expect, and turns the traditional notions of what encapsulates a “cat-lady” completely on its head.
Rounding out this package is Ichikawa Mikako herself – an alumnus of Ogigami’s previous works – who perfectly embodies the plain-spoken and tomboyish Sayoko, who possesses a stiff backbone and inner strength that leaves her little afraid of bullying people into taking command of their own lives. If only she could take some of her own advice…
Her unique cat-rental service provides the impetus for a number of comedic forays into strangers’ lives:
She helps to fill the jell-o sized hole in an elderly woman’s heart – left by the recent double loss of her husband and cat – which serves as a gentle reminder to a long estranged son of precious childhood memories.
She helps ease a salary-man’s transition back into his family’s life, from which he has long been absent.
She inspires a melancholy office lady to break free of the hum-drum routine of her everyday existence.
She encounters a mysterious young man, with a tenuous link to her past, who might just provide the key to her own future…
Each of these encounters are episodic in nature and may seem somewhat formulaic and repetitious. But the veteran actors inject enough individual charm into their roles, in order to carry the story forward and add value to the thematic whole.
If I could point out any weakness, it would be that each tale seems to wrap up just a little too neatly. Summed up with a simple mantra, it is perhaps altogether too optimistic for the so-called “real” world. But then again, this is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?
As we follow Sayoko busily peddling her cats to fill the void in other peoples’ lives, we realize how much they fill the very real emptiness in her own. Still lamenting the loss of her grandmother a number of years previous, she feels that her chances of finding happiness are slowly slipping away. While she has little trouble attracting four-legged felines, she lacks the social graces of attracting actual people; and her nosy neighbor never fails to turn up with a snide remark that manages to find the chink in her armored veneer.
But she does not allow these minor set-backs to destroy her utterly, and she remains stubbornly resolute as she plasters mantras on her wall of the changes she has planned to get her life back on track. We as the audience cannot help but cheer her on and hope for the best.
All-in-all, Rent-a-cat provides a rare, audience friendly, independent treat that is simple, yet poetically told. We can identify with these everyday people and all their minor foibles and imperfections. We can rally behind the simple message, of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, in spite of all the small defeats we each encounter along the way. While colored with an underlying melancholy, the film is ultimately life-affirming.
The ending offers the enticement of a possible fairy-tale resolution, but the director respects the fact that her established audience are wise enough to understand that the real world rarely works itself out, all wrapped up in a bow, for our benefit. Life is hard. It is supposed to be. And with this in mind, the film’s conclusion rings altogether more true and satisfying.
Watch this film if…
…you are searching for some form of connection in this so-called world of ours, to temporarily fill that indefinable gap in your melancholy existence…