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The Cat Returns

(Neko no Ongaeshi) 猫の恩返し
Japan 2002. Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Voices: Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Aki Maeda, Hitomi Satô, Tetsu Watanabe

The great popular success of Studio Ghibli’s schoolgirl fantasy/romance Whisper of the Heart lead to this spin-off, which revived the suave, top-hatted cat character called The Baron and placed him in a wonderful new adventure also involving a Japanese schoolgirl. The film’s protagonist is awkward teen Haru; the plot pitches her into a fantastical feline world that will test all her strength. Walking home after a dreary day at school, Haru saves a cat about to be hit by a speeding truck. To her amazement, the creature gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off, and thanks her very politely. This is strange behaviour indeed, but nothing compared to what happens later that evening, when the King of Cats shows up in a feline motorcade replete with vassals, maidens, and even Secret Service cats. In a show of gratitude for saving his son’s life, the king cat showers Haru with gifts — including a large supply of individually-wrapped live mice — and decrees that she shall marry the cat prince and come to live as a princess in the secret Kingdom of Cats. The Cat Returns was the first feature directed by second-generation Ghibli animator Hiroyuki Morita. Colour, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 75 mins.