Just got home from Neko Atsume House, the second feature of my Japan Cuts experience. Based on, of all things, a mobile phone app, the movie avoids the usual pitfalls of video game adaptations by using the creature collector/pet care sim premise as the foundation for a much deeper, more character-driven narrative.
The story revolves around a struggling novelist (played by Atsushi Ito, the cram school instructor from Flying Colors), who retreats to a house in the country in search of inspiration (and, at least partially, in order to escape from his demanding editors, who inexplicably want him to turn the protagonist of his bittersweet romance into a zombie). Finding the property absolutely swarming with stray cats, he quickly becomes obsessed with observing and photographing his newfound menagerie, initially as a means of avoiding his crippling self-doubt, but ultimately because the activity reminds him of a simpler, more carefree time in his life, when he wasn’t burdened by deadlines or the pressures of appeasing tyrannical publishers.
Neko Atsume House is an all-around feel-good film. The plot strolls along at a casual, unhurried pace, occasionally punctuated by clever visual gags (Ito has a great face for physical comedy). And, in addition to the bevy of adorable felines, the setting is populated by a number of quirky, colorful human characters—the flirty pet shop owner was a particular favorite of mine. It’s a strangely introspective interpretation of some frankly shallow source material, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, that very quality makes it exactly the sort of oddity I was hoping to discover at this festival.
[Originally written July 16, 2017.]