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The Cat Returns was produced in 2002 and directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who is now associated with the famous Studio Ghibli. It is another production of the Japanese studio, which occupies an honourable place among such titles as Howl’s Moving Castle or My Neighbor Totoro, and the name of its director is now one of the most famous in the world when it comes to the animation industry. An interesting fact worth adding is that the film also contains many visible references to Whisper of the Heart – an earlier production by Hiroyuki Morita, which was released in 1995. 

The movie tells the story of Haru, a high school student who is a shy and somewhat scatterbrained teenager with problems typical of her age. She does not stand out from her peers – she is constantly late for class, tormented by love dilemmas, and unable to find her place in adolescent life. The story begins when one day, coming back from school she saves a cat from under the wheels of a car, which seems to be nothing unusual, but the unexpected part is that the cat thanks the girl in a human voice and assures her of its gratitude. The creature turns out to be a prince inhabiting the Cat Kingdom, the land in a distant dimension. They travel to the world of cats, where Haru, as an acknowledgement, is to be married off to the royal son she saved a while ago. Hordes of cats of the Kingdom, pressure and persecute the young girl because they want to express their gratitude for saving the prince. The main character is not a big fan of the current situation, for that reason, she decides to face and try to find herself in this difficult situation, on her way meeting two exceptional companions – the gallant Baron and cynical Muta. A deeper relationship begins to build between the characters, which allows them to survive all this confusion. And this is where the whole adventure begins…

The animation is certainly a colourful and imaginative story about friendship, the lesson of doing good and learning about yourself. Although the plot is not full of depth and double meaning, it still holds the attention of not only the younger part of the audience but also adults. Ghibli’s productions are not always, as one would expect, aimed at children – many of the subjects may be incomprehensible to them, making them unable to appreciate the animation as a whole. In Hiroyuki Morita’s other films, such as Ponyo or Spirited Away, the storyline can be on the other hand very simplistic, but this in no way detracts from the charm of the story.

The animations of the Ghibli studio still amaze us with their form in the age of the accumulation of computer animations that flood us at every turn. They are characterised by the traditional method of drawing, thanks to which, even though the films are devoid of special effects, they enchant the viewer with their simplicity and charm. Beautiful backgrounds – the Cat Kingdom, but also the city in which the main character lives, are full of meticulously drawn details – so characteristic of the Ghibli studio. These images are extremely pleasing to the eye of the viewer and make a positive impression, at the same time evoking a lot of emotions. Even though the action does not move at a snail’s pace, one can even say that it happens quite fast, and the characters have been created with humour, there is still some melancholy and peace in The Cat Returns, as if the author’s aim was to evoke deeper reflection in the viewer, under the cover of a joyful picture. An interesting element, which not everyone pays attention to, is the origin of the films, from a country with a culture much different from our European one. Due to the lack of knowledge of this culture, not many people find symbols and subtleties in Japanese productions. It is only with a little knowledge that we get to know the multidimensionality of animation. One of such things is the fact that in Japan cats are not only symbols of happiness, but there are also demon-cats, which, according to local beliefs, can devour their owner. They move on two paws, exactly like the inhabitants of the Cat Kingdom, which is somewhat disturbing… 

An important part of the film is the sensational soundtrack, characteristic of Ghibli studio productions. It not only introduces the incredible atmosphere of the story, but also stays in your memory for a very long time – recalling the wonderful animation frames. Sometimes calm, sometimes lively, but certainly emotional music that perfectly captures the vibe of the scenes on screen is an element that must have taken hours of work. I am writing this as I listen to this soundtrack, and I have to say that with each successive track I am more and more enthralled and have the urge to watch this animation again.

I could wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone – regardless of age. It is an animation that wraps its fingers around your heart. I must admit I shed a few tears while watching this movie. However, it may not be the best choice for fans of explosions and crazy digital effects and those who are fervent opponents of cats. However, if you are neither one nor the other, I am sure you will enjoy this amazing Japanese animation. Right after watching The Cat Returns, I recommend that you also familiarise yourself with other Studio Ghibli productions. Maybe you will find in there references to the reviewed animation?

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