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Rent-a-Cat – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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An odd woman named Sayoko rents cats to lonely people. Some of the renters include an old woman who lost her husband and her cat, a middle-aged man who moved away from his family for work, a woman at a reception desk who questions her existence and a man who has a connection with Sayoko.

Writer and director Naoko Ogigami is known for her quirky films concerning what some may deem as social outcasts, detailing their lives in the most humorous albeit poignant fashion. With her latest film Rent-a-Cat, we find her returning once again to the realm of eccentric premises, this time taking a spin on a what we may collectively know as the stereotypical “cat lady,” a woman who seemingly surrounds herself with a multitude of cats. As with her previous films though, Ogigami explores this stereotype with a charming allure while still pointing out some of the difficulties that such a lifestyle may consist of.

The central focus of the film is that of Sayoko, who is essentially a lover of cats of all types and, though expressed understatedly, can communicate with them. She is also quite wealthy, but doesn’t necessarily show it, and bides herself in house only to really coming out to promote her rather strange occupation, which is loaning cats to individuals feeling some sense of loneliness or loss within their lives. We soon learn that she also suffers from a loss within her own life, recently losing her grandmother who she shared an immense bond with. She feels that it is necessary to help others who experienced similar emotional hardships, which is the prime motive for her starting such a business in the first place.

While appearing on the surface as simply a story about a woman obsessed with cats, Rent-a-Cat is a film that is also a social commentary on how animals can help humans cope with difficulties within their lives. We see Sayoko meet a variety of people who are in different stages in their life, whether this be losing a husband, missing loved ones who are far away, or simply dissatisfied with their work, we see Sayoko helping those in need and attempting to cheer them up. With her own loss of her grandmother, she is essentially in tune with how people feel about their current situation in life, reaching through her cats to help them. But Ogigami also plays upon Sayoko’s own predicament as a cat lady, with a running joke in the film in which Sayoko is continually harassed—in a lighthearted way—by her abnormal neighbor regarding her status as being a single woman surrounded by cats. While other directors would certainly have presented this aspect of Sayoko’s life in a crueler fashion, Ogigami offers it up as a relatively humorous deconstruction of the pejorative cat lady.

But while the much of the focus of the film is Sayoko looking to help people, the cats are perhaps the biggest contribution towards making this film simply a joy to watch. If you have ever owned a cat or just plain like them, then Rent-a-Cat will easily become a very enjoyable experience just on their presence alone. Ogigami pays special attention towards showcasing the cats in all their cute, playful nature, spending much time on having cats simply be cats. For those viewers who dislike cats, well, this might not be too suitable of a film for you. There are cats aplenty throughout, with much time spent showing the bonds that humans develop with them.

As a relatively small film though, Rent-a-Cat is still a delight to watch even if one doesn’t particularly care for such animals. It is a film that looks at how individuals deal with aspects of loneliness within their lives, using animals as an outlet in which to deal with such difficulties. It is also simply one of these feel good movies that offers an uplifting tale that practically everyone can relate to in some capacity, which remains one of its greatest strengths. Director Naoko Ogigami offers a heartwarming experience that doesn’t easily fall into clichés, once again offering up her uniqueness as a director willing to explore those members of society residing within a particularly unconventional lifestyle.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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