With Rent-A-Cat (Rentaneko), Director Naoko Ogigami brings us a self-written film touching upon the loneliness that plagues many in modern society, but especially in Japan with its declining birthrates and rise of individuals completely uninterested in reproducing. With a particularly demanding work culture and increasing social isolation amongst people both young and old, many Japanese today feel like they are alone in the world. Rent-A-Cat explores this theme with a particularly humorous touch — the middle-aged Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa) has a natural ability to attract cats to her, and she in turn rents these cats out to particularly lonely individuals for the low price of 1000 yen ($10).
The film itself is broken up into a couple of stories about the people who rent her cats — an elderly lady who has lost her husband, a salaryman who is isolated from his family due to extended business travel, a car rental agent who is unable to find a suitor, and an old acquaintance from middle school who also feels lonely in the world.
Each individual has their house inspected by Sayako, presumably to verify that it is suitable for one of her cats to temporarily inhabit, but in reality, it is to show us the reasons why these individuals are lonely; whether it is the elderly lady peacefully awaiting her own death, or the salaryman awaiting the next opportunity he has to visit his family, every individual has their own reason for their loneliness and they all try to seek solace with the companionship of a kitten that just happens to suit their individual personalities and lifestyles. They write down these reasons in their cat rental agreements, stating the conditions upon which their rental will expire — whether it’s the “day that I pass” for the elderly lady or “the day I return to my family” for the salaryman.
Honestly, I randomly stumbled upon this movie while looking up an exhibit about cats in classical Japanese art at the Japan Society in New York; however, I am very delighted that I was able to see Rent-A-Cat, because it was particularly uplifting in the midst of the many Chinese tragi-romances that I have been watching recently.
The loneliness that each of the characters exhibits in the film, from the customers of “Rent-A-Cat” to Sayako herself, strike a relate-able chord for many of us who are entering real life, and in doing so, transitioning out of our youth. At the same time, kittens are probably one of the few things in this world that are uncontroversially cute and happiness-inducing — after all, who wouldn’t want to play with kitties for a little while?
Rent-A-Cat is probably one of the most unique films I have watched in the past couple of years — while it is neither particularly dramatic nor is it horribly heart-wrenching, the combination of kitties with the exploration of loneliness in modern society made it a film worth watching in my book. And unlike many other films that explore loneliness as part of modern life, Rent-A-Cat is particularly uplifting with its simple message — that “nothing is better than a cat for when you’re feeling lonely.”
Rent a Cat (Japanese: レンタネコ)—Japan. Directed by Naoko Ogigami. First released February 2012, Running time 1hr 50 min. Starring Mikako Ichikawa, Reiko Kusamura, Ken Mitsuishi, Maho Yamada, Kei Tanaka and Katsuya Kobayashi.
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