Review of A Whisker Away (2020)
Seen in 2020.
The first half is good Okada Mari. I particularly appreciate how Muge remarks that her teenage crush is eroi (sexy, erotic), a line that nudges this romance out of chaste romcom territory, toward chūnibyō naturalism. Appropriately, the nickname “Muge” is short for mugendai, meaning “limitless” or, in contemporary US slang, “no filter”. She’s well developed as a character, forward to a fault, as children in troubled families often are in their early teenage years. Oddly, the Netflix subtitles make the nickname an acronym for “Miss Ultra Gaga and Enigmatic”.
Skip the second half. The premises, once revealed, are inelegant even by the low standards of shapeshifting modern-day fantasies. Fundamentally it’s the same crass formula as The Cat Returns (2002): Combine cute kids with cute cats on screen, adding just the flimsiest elements of fairy tale to inflate the stakes from time to time. I sense the influence of Shinkai Makoto in the good detail work of A Whisker Away, and the sloppy worldbuilding.
The English-language title of this Netflix project suggests Spirited Away (2001) or “whisked away”. The original title is similarly a pun: 「泣きたい私は猫をかぶる」means “Wanting to cry, I play at being a cat”, but the word for play (or pretend), written in hiragana, suggests the verb「被る」, meaning to wear an item on one’s head, as characters do to transform under the supernatural premises of the narrative.