I guess we've seen enough canine movies coming out from Japan, that it's now the turn for felines to get the spotlight. I would have half expected the plot to follow the usual formula, if not for the fact that Gu Gu the Cat actually became the side show of the plot, despite being the titular character, and worse, a replacement cat in fact.
Based on the novel by Yumiko Oshima, the story centers on Kojima (Kyoko Koizumi), a successful manga storyteller who suffers from a dearth of inspiration when her pet cat Ce Va dies of an illness suddenly, upon completion of her special edition masterpiece. Kojima lapses into depression, but she has her assistants and pals like Naomi (Juri Ueno) to thank in keeping her spirits up, especially when Kojima herself starts to find parallels between her own life, and that of her pet Ce Va. Then comes Gu Gu whom she adopts, and life may seem a little better given the antics of this cute cat.
However, this cat film, unlike the many dog ones out there, doesn't focus too much on the cat itself, unlike the love that man's best friend often get on screen. Perhaps cats find it unnatural to be performing in front of the camera unlike the dogs, though you can hear audible adoration of cuteness each time they turn on the charm in front of the camera. The filmmakers here know just what the best angles are, and the perfect situations to put the cats in for that all-too-familiar poses to have kids go into a frenzy harbouring hopes to get their own pet cat after the movie. But such scenes are few and far between.
I'm not too sure about the film being touted as a comedy, because I found it to be very much a tragedy for the most parts of the film. Losing one's inspirational compass in life is nothing to laugh about, or worse, choosing not to do anything about it. The mood is constantly morose, with Kojima brooding most of the time, and Naomi getting herself into some relationship complications. It's the story about these lead two characters and their friends (see if you can spot Miyuki Oshima from Handsome Suit), and less so about the cat, nor adopting the cat's point of view of events unravelling.
What I found a little irritating were the moments when this American English teacher Paul Weinberg (Marty Friedman) who appears as the narrator of sorts, breaking the fourth wall and goes into explanation mode, or even documentary styled prose, such as introducing some of the hot spots to visit in the city of Tokyo. The narrative thus became jarring each time he comes on, and while he has an important role to play given some revelation in the last act, it was still a little peculiar why that scene was included, because it gave the story an additional, needless direction into the third world, and was a little cheesy too in seeking some closure.
I suppose this film would only appeal to cat lovers, because for a dog person like me, this film didn't manage to convince me that a cat movie will work, nor did it raise my appreciation for the felines. If only a more compelling story would win me over otherwise, but perhaps it's more to do with the issues that the female of the species would be able to identify with a lot more, since the prerequisite illness in the tale was geared toward that.