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Anime Reviews: She and Her Cat
Immensely profound and emotionally resonant, She and Her Cat suffers only from very minimalistic animation as a side-effect of being one man's pet project.
Title: She and Her Cat a.k.a. Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko a.k.a. She and Her Cat ~Their Standing Points~
Production: CoMix Wave Inc.
Film Length: 5 minutes
Air Dates: 1999
Age Rating: 3+ (no objectionable content)
Summary: Chobi is a cat owned by She. She is very beautiful and kind, and Chobi loves her very much, and has ever since the rainy Spring day She found him and brought him home with her. When summer comes, Chobi finds himself a girlfriend named Mimi, but his true love is and has always been She, so he can't quite commit to Mimi as much as Mimi would like. As more time passes and She receives a distressing phone call, She begins to fall into depression and Chobi decides the best thing to do is to stay by her side. And as the year comes to an end, She and Chobi value the time they spend together and resolve to be there for each other for what life has to offer.
The Good: Atmospheric perfection; heart-rending soundtrack; peerless in its simplicity and emotional resonance
The Bad: Extremely minimalistic visuals more low-budget than artistic
The Ugly: Absolutely nothing
A movie this short has no business eliciting an emotional reaction from me. A movie this short doesn't even have any business being as good as it is, but alas, here we are. I've already talked about Makoto Shinkai in my review of Voices of a Distant Star. so it should be apparent already that I'm a big fan of the man. He knows exactly how to write good emotion-heavy stories, and the fact that I can't even think about this tiny little movie without tearing up should be a pretty handy indication of the power his writing exhibits. And this was just the man's first movie! So, let's not waste any more time and dive right into She and Her Cat.
First of all, the atmosphere in this film is nothing short of breathtaking. The fact that it's in primarily black-and-white already lets you know that you're in for something a bit more melancholy than usual, and the close confines of She's apartment with its dark shadows and narrow streaks of light help to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia and uneasiness, and even loneliness. You really get to sympathize with She through the simple act of looking at her apartment, and even though you know nothing about her, you can infer enough to know everything about her. That's the magic a good director can deliver.
It also helps when one of your good friends is a talented pianist and songwriter. Enter Tenmon, who has always been there to compose the music for Shinkai's works, and this is where it all began. Though, with such a short film, the only pieces of music that are really present are the main theme and the ending theme, but you know what? They're absolutely perfect. With just those two tracks, a top-notch soundtrack was forged, and I'm alright with that. Soft arpeggios and discordant chords come together to flawlessly encapsulate the feel of the movie, and that feel is one crushing solitude and ever-growing depression with maybe a small glimmer of promise for the future.
And really, that's what the heart of this film is all about--dealing with loneliness and depression, and looking forward to tomorrow with a measure of hope. And it's all from the point of view of a cat! The fact that the main character and narrator isn't human allows us to see She's struggle from a perspective where the sorrow is evident, but the cause and consequences really aren't. It's hard for Chobi to understand what She's going through, since his life is relatively easy and carefree, but his empathy and devotion are touching (and mostly realistic, as any pet owner will attest) nonetheless. By peering into this young woman's life, we can take a look at our own lives from that same outsider's perspective, and by the time the film's powerful last line is delivered, hopefully She and her cat will have as much impact with you as it most certainly has with me. Short of the Thai Life Insurance commercials, you'll not find a more emotionally-satisfying 5 minutes of entertainment anywhere.
But sadly, just as was the case with Shinkai's next film, Voices of a Distant Star, the visuals are this film's main weakness. The backgrounds and lighting are impeccable and worthy of any award, but the artwork on Chobi and his girlfriend Mimi are just atrocious. I understand Shinkai was going for a more simple approach to their designs, but I should not be finding more realistic depictions of cats in Azumanga Daioh, which I should remind you is a surrealist, absurdist gag comedy series where the animals are drawn like grade-school doodles on purpose. Aside from the really goofy-looking cats, the animation itself is almost nonexistent, but when it does show up, it doesn't flow well at all. It's a good thing that most of the film consists of stills, so that it doesn't happen often, but even that can turn a lot of people off immediately. In the end, the anemic animation is just something you'll have to get used to.
But really, if the only downside of a film made by just one guy is that its animation is limited, then that sounds like a tremendous success to me. It just means that everything important for telling a story was executed well, and really, that's what matters most in any film. Given that it's just a few minutes long, She and Her Cat doesn't have a DVD or Blu-Ray release of its own, but you can often find it as a special feature on the Voices of a Distant Star DVD, and I don't need to remind you how great that film was in order to goad you into buying it, do I? Really, anything Makoto Shinkai produces is well worth your time and money (as I'll explain to you in the upcoming weeks), and this beautiful little film is no different.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. It may not be the most impressive feat of animation around, but She and Her Cat uses its short runtime wisely, delivering a powerful narrative with infectious atmosphere and doing more in mere minutes than other films can do in several hours.