It starts off kind of creepy, then straight to adorable.
Miyo Sasaki (Mirai Shida/Cherami Leigh) is a middle school girl with a crush on her classmate Kento Hinode (Natsuki Hanae/Johnny Yong Bosch). Unfortunately, while she is an outgoing and emotional person, Hinode is usually cold and distant. However, Miyo receives a mask from a talking cat (Koichi Yamadera/Keith Silverstein) that lets her turn into a cat whenever she puts it on. She uses this mask to pretend to be a stray cat that Hinode plays with, named “Taro.” Using her time as Hinode’s cat, she tries to build her relationship with him. Unfortunately, it turns out that magic tends to have a price in stories like this.
Okay, so, I realize that there’s something inherently a little weird about a story of spying on your crush, but a big part of the movie is that Miyo (or “Muge” as she is called) is being immature. As the movie continues, she starts to realize that her worldview has always been undeveloped and she grows as a result. At the same time, she starts to get a better picture of who Hinode is, which does nothing to deter her feelings, but instead deepens them. We discover that both of them are hurting, but that they both have responded to their pain in completely different ways. Their relationships with their families are strained by circumstances beyond their control and, like kids do, they have difficulty really coping with it.
The depth of the characterizations of the two leads is what makes A Whisker Away work. Miyo’s need for affection may make her seem weird to the rest of the world, but it’s just a representation of her desire to receive love. As a cat, she receives all of the cuddles she could ever ask for from the object of her desire. On the opposite end, Hinode is always repressing his feelings due to having to provide for his family. Their financial burden embarasses him a little and puts unnatural pressure on him to get a job to support them, but his loyalty to them prevents him from complaining. This is presented mostly through show rather than narration, which benefits heavily from the very expressive animation style.
That brings me to the animation, which is… just so damned cute. Seriously, when Miyo is “Taro,” she is one of the most adorably animated animals I’ve ever seen. She still has a lot of expressions that reflect her status as having human consciousness, but anyone who has owned a cat will still acknowledge that they can give you those looks. It gets even better when the film decides to say that every cat out there really IS sentient, even having a secret place to go that is accessible only to cats. Despite relying on a supernatural premise, the movie doesn’t really dip heavily into fantasy until the third act, and the slow build-up really helps heighten the drama.
Overall, just a really cute movie, if a bit weird. I recommend giving it a try.
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