Thursday, June 20, 2013

Edinburgh 2013: I Catch a Terrible Cat (こっぴどい猫, Japan) 2012

Part of Connor McMorran's coverage for MKC of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June 19-30, 2013).

If there can be one major complaint of post-modern cinema, it is that it is far too aware. Not only of itself as a piece of cinema, but also of the limitations of genre. This can often lead to an over-eager attempt to break or push genre boundaries, or to reject genre in favour of observational, dialogue-heavy, or highly referential cinema. Thankfully, Rikiya Imaizumi’s I Catch a Terrible Cat manages to avoid such pitfalls whilst also providing a rather interesting and playful look at the romance genre.

The film follows a group of people, all connected in some form or another. Takada, a 60-year old novelist, is the main focus of the film, alongside with his son and daughter, their partners, and some other vaguely connected characters all adding to the drama in some way. The basic premise of the film, as with any romance, is love; the film follows the various relationship problems which occur to the couples, as well as those looking for love. At the centre of most of the affections is Sayo, a quiet and unassuming character who is afraid to confess her love to one person in particular.

Naturally, these problems are already very well discussed in the romance genre; the cheating husband, the overly-jealous girlfriend, the first love, the widower looking for new love, and even the young love brought to an end by illness. Takada’s inability to write a new novel is explained in the film by his sorrow following his wife’s death, but it also suggests that he is unable to live life as he wants to. He is constantly surrounded by problems and people asking him to help or give advice in some way or another, and is rarely given time to think about his own thoughts and desires. Takada essentially exists as a normal person stuck within a romance genre-movie. Even when a young woman asks him to stay overnight, he chooses to lie on the floor instead of sharing a bed. In some way, Takada’s frustrations increase the more he comes to believe in the expected resolutions of the romance genre.

That the film ultimately offers little to no resolution for any of the narratives it sets up seems to strengthen the idea that this is an examination of genre rather than an attempt to provide a genre experience. The film sits somewhere between comedy and drama, but it is admittedly rather uncomfortable there. The film’s main flaw is that the dialogue and scenes are paced in an almost melodramatic way, where characters only ever build up enough courage to blurt out short sentences with large gaps of awkward silence in between. That said, the film does feature some great comedic moment, and one completely fourth wall breaking and absurdist moment.

Visually, the film presents a consistent warm glow over mostly earthly hues, allowing exceptions – Sayo’s red dress, the birthday party scene – to carry more of a punch. The film manages to maintain a sense of reality, only slightly faltering due to its excessive use of short focal length shots. Music, what little there is, accompanies the mood well, and the acting is good considering the stilted dialogue and long pauses.

As it stands, the film could probably have done with one final edit to tidy things up a bit, though seen as a work of contemporary Asian minimalism, it works . The characters, the situations and their relationships all combine well. Perhaps what really stands out is that the film manages to remain interesting throughout, adding characters and scenes in a natural and somewhat refreshing way. By having the main character be a writer, the film could be seen as a new way of approaching the over-done ‘writer’s block’ narrative, and the film’s conclusion seems to suggest this may be the case. I Catch a Terrible Cat is a good example of Japan’s often unique approach to genre cinema, and an intriguing and enjoyable start to the festival.

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