Eye For Film >> Movies >> Mad Cats (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Do you know the story of the centipede and the cockroach? It’s a very old joke told, with slight variations, in many different parts of the world. It’s recounted in full about halfway through this film in a beautiful character moment around which everything else seems to revolve. Amongst other things, Mad Cats is about the relationships we form in passing, at unexpected junctures in life, which have a transformative effect, whether by developing into lasting loyalty or by thrusting us into absurd situations which we really shouldn’t have anything to do with.
If you go into it expecting the sort of broad Japanese comedy which it later turns out to be, you are likely to be startled by the beauty of the opening shot, in which the camera glides across forested hills and curves around to reveal five women in white dresses who appear to be conducting some kind of ritual. We cut to a wide spiral staircase, seen from above, and then to a prison cell in which two men are squatting, bound and bewildered. An abrupt act of violence follows, leaving us with no illusions about what their captors, the women, as capable of. The next scene could not be more different, however, as we see the hero of the film, Taka (Shô Mineo), dragging himself out of his bed in a litter-strewn caravan in the middle of the afternoon.
Taka, it emerges, is the brother of the man who remains in the cell, an archaeologist who, according to a radio news report, recently disappeared. As he’s drinking his first beer and promising the site owner that he’ll have the rest of the rent next week, he receives a mysterious cassette tape which reveals something of his brother’s plight and gives him a special mission: to retrieve a small wooden box from within the women’s fortress. Impoverished but loyal, Taka hops on his bike, cycles for four days and sneaks into the women’s hidden fortress – only to get a taste of what he’s up against and realise that he has no plan at all.
What follows mixes comedy with elements of a classic Japanese action film as Taka is set upon, with extreme prejudice, by a succession of women who are, in fact, (mad) cats in human form. With a complete lack of fighting skills, his only advantage comes from the fact that they have a habit of playing with their prey before going in for the kill. No matter how far he runs, they are relentless in their pursuit. Along the way he meets homeless man Takezo (Yûya Matsuura), who keeps protesting that this situation is nothing to do with him yet failing to extract himself from it, as well as a mysterious young woman who steps in to defend him for reasons which it will take him a while to understand. There are a lot of chases, gun battles, martial arts battles and an advert for Jake’s Cat Emporium which does make sense in context, honest.
With a stonking punk soundtrack and seemingly effortless style, Reiki Tsuno’s rambunctious contribution to the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival line-up is as engaging as it is ridiculous. Blending genres as it does, it sometimes struggles to get the pacing right, and the ending falls a bit flat compared with what has gone before, but there is nonetheless plenty to enjoy.
The obviously low budget has not limited the ambition of its creative team. The cat women are nicely observed and pleasingly out of step with the country’s popular cutesy kitten imagery. The relationships between the central characters give the film a lot of heart. If you can’t stand to hear old jokes repeated, you might want to give it a miss, but if you are willing to trust a 21-year-old first time feature director to do something fresh with them, this could be for you.Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2023