(Original Title: レンタネコ)
This one is perhaps one of the strangest, craziest and loneliest films you will ever get to experience. However, it’s also incredibly kind and sweet. Pretty, but not in a conventional way and lonesome, but never sad or gloomy. Naoko Ogigami’s Rent-A-Cat is slow, quiet and quirky, gently comic and colourful, soft and relieving. It takes reality and wraps it in a dream, takes sorrow and paints it pink, takes solitude and gives it a cat.
Although from all angles Japanese, Rent-A-Cat is not what one would expect to come out of Japanese cinema and culture. The quirkiness and dreamy atmosphere that we know and love is prominent more than ever before, but nothing feels extreme, shocking or depressing. On the contrary, this is a film that goes against Japanese cinema norms, breaks the rules with sweetness and unwinds with beautiful stillness and refreshing serenity. In other words, it very much contains all those ingredients that make Japanese cinema appealing, but lets go of everything that makes it too much for the rest of us to handle. At the same time, it never feels like a Europeanized or Americanized Japanese story, a story which has been shaped in a certain way only to be understood by the easy-to-shock nations. No, it’s evident that both the Japanese filmmaker remained true to herself while making Rent-A-Cat, and audiences stay awake because they enjoy the film, without suffering, without trying to prove anything.
The premise is simple, but of course mad. A young woman, Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa), lives alone in a packed-with-things home, where she keeps a shrine dedicated to her deceased grandmother, where she hangs posters outlining her week’s resolutions, and where she looks after a continuously growing gathering of cats. Every day, she walks along the Tama River, with a cart full of cats, calling out to the people passing by, promising to rent a cat to all the lonely souls out there in need of company, warmth and affection. Her customers turn out to be just as colourful and sweet as she is, but the overall vibe that her story gives off constantly shifts from sad and lonely to funny and upbeat, with the filmmaker never really allowing her audience to feel disappointed, but never letting her lead character come across overly optimistic without a good reason.
Rent-A-Cat is a female film. Although great male characters are to be found in the story, there is no doubt that it’s told from a woman’s point of view and affects female audiences much more than male viewers. It has been described by many as the Japanese Amelie, which to a certain extent is true, and effectively illustrates what one should expect from Ogigami’s writing and directing style. However, Rent-A-Cat feels much kinder. Although Amelie is pretty and cute, she can also be mischievous and even evil, taking situations to extremes. Sayoko, on the other hand, might be one of the sweetest and nicest creatures that we have ever come across in film. And Ogigami’s sense of humour, although dry and strange, never gets too dark or heavy.
Naoko Ogigami never allows us to really look inside her characters or to fully get to know them. They always remain that little bit mysterious and distant, despite the fact that we have spent two hours with them. Their quirkiness doesn’t go away and their loneliness is not relieved. They are introduced to us and walk alongside us, but never really go anywhere. No one grows, no one changes or matures. In fact, one of the most appealing aspects of Rent-A-Cat is its childish nature, the simple ways of having fun that it encourages, the superficiality of its characters and the fun side that is given to serious, adult problems. It’s sweet and it’s fun, it’s heart-warming and cute. And if it deals with something heavy, it still doesn’t mean that the pretty, lively exterior needs to change.
Rent-A-Cat at IMDb