It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Japan Cuts, my favorite annual film festival, has officially commenced! For my first screening, I decided to go with something low-key and lighthearted: The Island of Cats, a gentle slice-of-life drama that explores the relationship between an elderly widower and his energetic feline companion, Tama. Despite his cheerful facade, our human protagonist clearly resents how he and his peers are treated by the younger generation (including his own son), who expect them to sit quietly and wait for death. When a hip, modern cafe opens on the remote island he inhabits, he’s inspired to spice up his routine by continuing his late wife’s hobby of collecting recipes—an adventure that gradually brings the sleepy community closer together.
Exquisitely shot (director Mistuaki Iwago’s credentials as a wildlife photographer are on full display) and told with extraordinary sensitivity (in terms of its tone, it combines the best qualities of Yasujiro Ozu, Hayao Miyazaki, and the talented folks at Pixar), The Island of Cats has something to appeal to every viewer’s cinematic tastes: adorable animals, delicious food, romance, humor, and a whole lot of heart. I’m sure there will be many movies at this year’s showcase that are more competently crafted and visually impressive—but I doubt they’ll be half as charming as this crowd-pleaser.