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Gu Gu the Cat
Gu Gu the Cat

This is Gu Gu The Cat. There are humans (not pictured) in this movie too.
Korean: グーグーだって猫である
Year: 2008  
Director: Isshin Inudou  

Isshin Inudou

  Cast: Kyoko Koizumi, Juri Ueno, Ryo Kase, Marty Friedman, Naojiro Hayashi, Miyuki Oshima, Tomoko Murakami, Kazuko Kurosawa, Tatsuya Isaka, Chieko Matsubara
  The Skinny: Isshin Inudou’s cat film has enough charm to sustain its audience, but it also suffers from a muddled focus, an uneven tone, and an extremely strange “performance” by Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. At least it fulfills the basic requirement of having a really cute cat.
Kevin Ma:
On the surface, Gu Gu the Cat seems like just another Japanese animal film with a lovable cat and likable humans like Kyoko Koizumi and Juri Ueno. However, writer-director Isshin Inudou has concocted something a little different from your usual animal film, inserting observations about Tokyoites’ favorite neighborhood Kichijoji, some silly physical comedy, and even an appearance by Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman. The result is a strange hybrid of different genre elements that never quite gels as a coherent whole, but has enough to at least charm lovers of cats and/or Tokyo.

Based on the pseudo-autobiographical comic by Yumiko Oshima, Gu Gu the Cat tells the tale of Asako Kojima (Koizumi), a comic book artist living in Kichijoji who works at home with her four assistants (long-time assistant Naomi, played by Ueno, is the only one with a name). After the devastating loss of her loyal cat Ca Va, Asako grieves by stopping her work completely, much to her assistants’ dismay. Finally, Asako finds the courage to get over Ca Va’s death…by buying another cat named Gu Gu. Good thing this is a movie about mourning dead animals, not humans.

With Gu Gu as her new companion, Asako slowly picks up the pieces of her life, even finding a potential human partner in a caring younger man that happens to look like Ryo Kase. Meanwhile, Naomi has her own set of problems, including her career future and her relationship with aspiring musician boyfriend Mamoru, who may be getting a little too much attention from his high school female fanbase.

Amidst all of this is one of the strangest inclusions in recent Japanese commercial films: Marty Friedman appears in the film as local English teacher and fourth wall-breaking narrator Paul Weinberg, whose job throughout the film is to introduce Kichijoji to his audience. Though the justification for his existence is explained late in the film, the explanation is not logical enough to resolve the audience’s confusion. Even worse, Friedman has zero presence as either an actor or narrator, delivering his stilted lines with nary an emotion or change in facial expression. It’s not likely that Friedman will ever use his “performance” here in a demo reel for his future hosting or acting career, and he’ll be much better off that way.

Based on Friedman’s character and other stylistic choices, Inudou seems determined to deliver a Kichijoji-based fairy tale about the various human and animal characters in the neighborhood, and he does create the proper tone, making the film a light character study in the first act. Despite opening with themes like grief and loss almost immediately, Gu Gu the Cat is able to keep a relaxing tone, leisurely establishing both its setting and characters well enough to involve the audience. Even as the film switches to a silly comedy around the 50-minute mark, delivering more smiles than actual laughs, it remains pleasant enough to qualify as an enjoyable experience.

It’s in the last third when Gu Gu the Cat begins to derail. The story finally focuses on Asako, but it also switches tones and adds a melodramatic twist. Like Friedman’s presence, the last third doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the film, which is regrettable since Inudou already established the appropriate tone early on. Another problem lies with Asako, who Koizumi plays as mysteriously introverted. Koizumi has proven herself to be a capable actress in films like Tokyo Sonata, but Asako is ultimately not a very interesting character. Beyond living in her own issues (which Asako alludes to in her comics), there’s no real exploration into what Asako is actually thinking. Instead, events happen to her, and we simply see Koizumi’s poker face as dictated by her character’s personality. Ueno is slightly more successful, thanks to her character’s outward personality. However, even Ueno begins to appear lost in the last third, as Naomi becomes similarly introverted about her issues, and becomes just as hard to read.

Nevertheless, there is much charm to be found in Gu Gu the Cat. The Kichijoji locations are captured splendidly, and the film possesses a light comic charm for a good portion of the running time, which should induce some smiles. Most importantly, the cat is cute enough to inspire multiple “aw”’s from its audience. Inudou is a filmmaker with an ability to truly capture characters inhabiting suburban environments, and he retains that ability here with a carefree, European cinematic style to boot. As a writer, however, he’s trying to tell an intimate story too ambitiously for his own good, and ends up losing focus. With so many successful dog films, cat lovers are surely waiting for that crossover hit that will turn their favorite animal into blockbuster subject matter. Gu Gu the Cat may not be the film that’ll achieve that, but at least it serves as a good diversion while waiting. (Kevin Ma, 2009)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Film
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Japanese Language Track
Dolby Stereo 2.0
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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