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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Ghost Cat Anzu


- CANNES 2024: Yôko Kuno and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s film is a visual feast for fans of Japanese animation, even if the story falls short of expectations

Review: Ghost Cat Anzu

Japanese animation has shown, time and time again, its versatility in depicting characters and situations equally well from the adorable to the grotesque, with the emergence of the unexpected along the way. You might be wondering what one could have against an anthropomorphic cat – a large, cuddly and fluffy friend who can even talk to you – unless you have a cat of your own, when the pets are often revealed to be not only playful and highly independent, but also cheeky with little remorse. Such a character forms the basis of a combined effort from animator Yôko Kuno and Linda Linda Linda filmmaker Nobuhiro Yamashita, Ghost Cat Anzu [+see also:
film profile
. Based on the manga of the same name by Takashi Imashiro, the film has just enjoyed its premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes.

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After the death of her mother, Yuzuki (Mika Ichikawa), young school-aged Karin (Noa Gotō) is dropped off at her monk grandfather's house by her father, Tetsuya (Munetaka Aoki), who leaves the girl to fend for herself. Brimming with naïveté, the wide-eyed kid must quickly learn to coexist with Anzu (Mirai Moriyama), a human-sized, anthropomorphic cat that her grandfather rescued and raised many years ago, giving him the moniker “ghost cat” owing to his seemingly ageless state. Anzu, who rides a moped around town doing odd jobs but can also interact with spirits from the afterlife, causes a ruckus and initially butts heads with Karin, who just wants to have as normal a childhood as possible.

For better and for worse, Ghost Cat Anzu can't run away from the comparisons to such a groundbreaking work as Spirited Away – talking, supernatural animals of dubious intent mixed with a lonely young girl seem to make the perfect recipe for a quirky piece of animation. Comparisons could also easily be drawn with My Neighbor Totoro, with its unlikely friendship between its human protagonist and her oversized creature counterparts. However, the exposition drags on for longer than welcome, while the major conflict – an incredible sequence that takes place in the underworld – and Anzu's turn from nuisance to hero feel too brief to enable us to empathise wholly with Anzu. A playful score by Keiichi Suzuki does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to accepting the growth of the friendship between Karin and the ghost cat.

Regardless, the animation here stands up to scrutiny, and the filmmakers bring a charming and warm, handmade quality to the film. The painting-like, lusciously coloured background animation stands in contrast to the simpler, outlined characters, which are delightful in their assortment, especially Anzu's friends, small forest sprite-birds and other ghost creatures that take on the form of anthropomorphised mushrooms, frogs and red pandas. The diversity in the character animation seems to aspire to that of the famous Studio Ghibli film, although with less depth. Eyes, in particular, convey the emotional range of motion of the characters, from the beady ones of local kids and aggressive police officers to the soft pupils of Karin and Anzu's Doraemon-like gaze.

Ghost Cat Anzu is a Japanese-French production staged by Shin-Ei Animation and Miyu Productions. Its foreign sales are handled by Charades.

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