If Cats Disappeared From the World
世界から猫が消えたなら 「Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara」
Release Date: May 14th, 2016
Duration: 118 mins.
Director: Akira Nagai
Writer: Ryoichi Okada (Screenplay), Genki Kawamura (Original Novel)
Starring: Takeru Satoh, Aoi Miyazaki, Mieko Harada, Eiji Okuda, Anna Ishii, Gaku Hamada, Eita Okuno
“If I were to disappear from this world, who would miss me?” Characters in movies usually think this while contemplating death. Of course, every person matters and our lives are connected with each other and the environment so something or someone disappearing has a big impact, but that is not always clear to people as we get swept up in dramatic circumstances and tumultuous emotions. There are tried and tested cinematic journeys used to lead a character to that epiphany of interconnection, either a path defined by hijinks or a contemplative trip down memory lane to show how important we all are, the latter of which happens in this gently powerful and moving film where the main character finds out he will die within days.
A good-natured Postman (Takeru Sato) who has recently moved away from his parent’s house after the passing of his mother learns that he doesn’t have much time left to live due to a terminal illness. After being informed by the doctor he only has a few days left, the Postman retreats home, quietly devastated, and laments his fate with his lovely and loyal cat, Cabbage. However, on this particular night, they are joined by a guest for, at the dinner table, is a doppelgänger who we can call Devil (also played by Takeru Sato). Devil offers to extend the Postman’s life by a day if he picks something in the world to disappear. It will be as if it never existed. At first, the postman selects phones and when the offer is extended again he chooses films but as these things fade from reality, so do the memories created by them because they helped connect the Postman to other people.
The director for this one is Akira Nagai and he made Judge! (2014), a bright, brash and brilliantly fun comedy about the art of advertising, something a million miles away from this, a serious drama with some simple yet profound philosophy. It is based on a book from the producer of Your Name (2016), Villain (2010), and Rage (2016), and that novel has been published with an English-language translation in the west. The story is easily accessible and really homes in on the universal truth that everything matters.
What happens is that we get various vignettes via flashback sequences that unspool the Postman’s entire life as he thinks about his relationships. Each memory he contemplates contain meet-cutes with people he cares about facilitated by the things he chooses to disappear. The more he thinks, the more he realises that these simple objects are important and helped create the greater moments of love and life shared with others and these memories colour in the present-day narrative and make the Postman appreciate how everything has a place in the world, including himself. Each vignette crescendoes in a series of heart-to-heart sequences that are heartbreaking thanks to the acting.
The film stars Takeru Satoh (Rurouni Kenshin and Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno) who is a great emotional core for the story as he plays good and bad. His performance as the Devil is smouldering and cool his Postman is withdrawn, someone only able to imagine acting out emotionally, but as the two grapple with death there are deluges of raw emotion. The most powerful come from when he is with his mother, played by Mieko Harada, that Takeru draws from a deeper depth of his character as he shows a profound sadness and fear in the scenes where he sees her illness and they say their goodbyes. That powerful bond is cemented through Harada’s gentleness as she offers guidance when he is at his most vulnerable and we see it keeps him afloat in a highly affecting mother-son story.
Aoi Miyazaki (The Great Passage, Eureka), as the ex-girlfriend, has the more opaque role as the vagaries of love and life split them apart – some people change after a moment they find profound and it is hard for the people left behind to fathom and she isn’t explored but offers good support. Gaku Hamada (See You Tomorrow, Everyone) as his best friend Tatsuya really impressed me with his interpretation of the movie mad character (who is also called Tsutaya as a reference to the DVD rental chain). Their friendship founded on film appreciation is funny thanks to the stiltedness of Hamada’s character. Through mannerism and facial expression, he gives off the air of someone dedicated to films but we know it is an affectation as he is someone who probably feels loneliness. The moment he realises his best friend is about to die and the words they exchange is really gut-wrenching because he drops the act and allows some true sorrow to emerge.
With each parting in the story and with each affirmation of love, the Postman realises he had his place and he will be missed.
The film is full of some really beautifully composed shots with a cold sheen to many scenes which makes the stronger colours such as red standout in scenes where passions are explored. The fancier locations, such as Argentina and the Iguazo Falls which are seen in the Wong Kar-Wai film Happy Together, are eye-catching, but it is the setting of Hakodate, it’s distinctive hill that slopes down to the harbour with the ship, which moves the heart. The homes of each character and the tranquillity and just general niceness of the place really comes through the screen. The world the Postman and his circle of friends and family live in is an ideal place.
Some films exhort their audiences to appreciate life by showing grand romances and journeys, this one reminds audiences that the things we take for granted, including ourselves, are very important and that every life matters in some way.
Here’s a music video with one of those soft renditions of The Pixies song “Where Is My Mind”:
“I’m glad I like movies because movies have sent my best friend to me.”