Rent-a-Cat (3 stars)


Charming but occasionally repetitive comedy from Japan

Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa) has a knack for attracting cats. She has so many around her house that she starts renting them out to lonely fellow citizens in need of a little companionship. What nobody knows about Sayoko (except for her exceptionally blunt next door neighbour) is that she’s overcome by loneliness herself; despite her affinity with feline-kind, she has trouble connecting with humans.

Ichikawa is a strong enough presence to carry the human side of the film: a Japanese Amelie Poulain, improving the lives of those around her with random acts of catness. Her furry co-stars are equally charismatic – in the age of YouTube, the sight of cats cavorting is enough to inspire joy in even the most cynical of hearts, and any fear that the critters might not stick to the script is alleviated when you realise that all they have to do is be themselves. There’s enough, ‘Oh look, the cat’s in a basket! / Oh look, the cat’s stretching! / Oh look, the kittens are playfighting!’ to pick up the slack whenever the storyline sags.

Because sag it does. Writer-director Naoko Ogigami has opted to present the story in an episodic format with no overlap: Sayoko rents out a cat, contemplates her own loneliness for a while, then reconnects with her client to conclude the lease. This repetitive format takes its toll on our affection for Sayoko, and our appreciation of her free-spirited quirkiness quickly sours into irritation at her inability to ‘get a grip’.

But thankfully the cats save the day, and additional credit goes to Ogigami for steering clear of romcom conventions. If you’re a cat lover, you may want to add an extra star to the above rating; if not, there should be just enough non-feline charm to see you through.

Showing at Edinburgh International Film Festival, Fri 22 & Sun 24 Jun.

Rent-a-Cat (Rentaneko)

  • 2012
  • Japan
  • 1h 50min
  • Directed by: Naoko Ogigami
  • Cast: Mikako Ichikawa, Reiko Kusamura, Ken Mitsuishi, Maho Yamada, Kei Tanaka, Katsuya Kobayashi

This engaging comedy probes the loneliness beneath the decorous surface of contemporary Japan. Every day Sayoko pushes a cart along a river, renting out cats to lonely people in order to fill the empty spaces in their hearts. Somehow Sayoko herself, though she has no trouble attracting felines, has a hard time finding…

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