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If Cats Disappeared from the World - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara

Japan 2016

Genre:
Drama

Director:
Akira Nagai

Cast:
Takeru Satoh
Aoi Miyazaki
Gaku Hamada
Eiji Okuda
Mieko Harada


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If Cats Disappeared from the World

If Cats Disappeared from the World - Film Screenshot 1

Story: A young postman (Takeru Satoh) is one day told that he has an inoperable brain tumor. He has only one week left at best. The postman is devestated and doesn't know what to do with his remaining days. There is still too much he wants to do in life. Back at home he runs into the devil, though, who has taken on his exact form. The devil tells him that he actually has only one day left to live. However, there is a possibility to prolong his life. For every day the postman wants to live the devil erases one thing from the world for good. Since the cancer patient isn't allowed to choose what this thing is the devil names the phone as the first thing to disappear from the world. With his new-bought time the postman meets his ex-girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) and they talk about the past. Eventually, the young man realizes that he never would have met his ex-girlfriend without a phone. But it's already too late and the devil makes all phones vanish from the face of the earth. Next, the young man wants to say goodbye to his friend (Gaku Hamada). But the thing that connects both of them - movies - is supposed to disappear from the world for another bought day next...

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Review: The questions what life has in store for us, what's the meaning we see in it and how we cope with death is something numerous movies have explored already. "If Cats Disappeared from the World" tackles these subjects in a subtle as well as slightly manipulative manner. Yet, this kind of manipulation isn't sticking out like a sore thumb which would harm the actual drama. Instead, the drama confidently moves through at times complex terrain and while doing so carries the message that nothing in the world is replaceable - including us - wrapped up in a fantasy-like package. Deserving special praise is the warm cozy feeling the movie manages to create. Because even if things revolve around dying the story wants to illustrate what it means to live. That sounds familiar, maybe even banal, yet as already said is executed inventive and convincingly.

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After the "devil" has shown its face to the protagonist and makes him an offer, you may almost assume that the film is based on a manga. In fact, the flick is based on a novel by Genki Kawamura, though. And the different layers of the drama soon make this obvious, too. No matter how complex the movie may be, in some respects it's rather predictable as well. This also includes the message of the picture and even becomes apparent in the fact that we assume the "devil's" actions to be someting like a lesson in life. However, as is the case with many good movies it's not important what the story tells, but how it is told. And that's where director Akira Nagai ("Judge!") without a doubt manages to score. He proves to have the needed sensitiveness for the story to work and also succeeds in steering through the different flashbacks quite well, without the viewer ever loosing orientation.

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After all, from afar "If Cats..." might seem rather chaotic on a narrative level. We are constantly thrown into flashbacks, get to see scenes we have already witnessed once again when certain things aren't present in the world anymore and thus create a butterfly effect, and in all that there is also a past love story hidden as well as most importantly the protagonist's fear of death, which has its origin in the passing of his mother. Through the things that connect us to others in life we slowly start to get closer to the actual fear of the young man with a brain tumor. Therefore, the movie also becomes more linear and focussed, yet shows that everything that came before it is of importance for the big picture, too. Accordingly, the many small threads merge quite well with the big theme of the movie.

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The movie's atmosphere reminded me a bit of "Love Letter" and the fantasy aspect in the film isn't a nuisance at all, especially not since you can also explain things rationally, if you choose to. What's surprising concerning the fantasy elements are the special effects, though, which you wouldn't expect to be so neat in such a movie. Next to that we also get so see a variety of nice locations, whereas the scenes at the beach and in the small town create a feeling of warmth as if comfortably sitting in a well-heated room while looking out of the window into the clear sky on a cold winter's day. Director Akira Nagai knows how to make use of this atmosphere and his themes and weaves a wonderful emotional net which will certainly make you shed one or two tears, yet will also show you the bright side of life.

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Takeru Satoh ("Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend ends", "Bakuman") plays the nameless postman with the necessary aloofness, which naturally has its origin in his vulnerability, without him ever being too cold. Thus, he allows easy access to the story. Aoi Miyazaki ("Nana") bestows the required nostalgia factor on the implemented love story and Mieko Harada ("Dororo") gives her role the sort of motherly warmth, which instantly explains the strong bond of the postman to his mother. But even characters that aren't that well elaborated like the movie buff or the father all have their place in the story and serve as important gears in the clockwork of life. After all, it's not by chance that the father is a clockmaker so that we have to assume the movie wants to tell us: We may only be a single gear in the clockwork of life of all those around us, but without us the clock would need to be wound up again.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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