Need something to cheer you up in these trying times? Have you always wanted to give up all the worldly cares of the human world and live life as a cat? Then you should make sure to watch A Whisker Away, an outstanding animated film from Toho and Studio Colorido that was intended to be shown in Japanese theatres, but is instead being distributed as a Netflix exclusive due to Covid-19.
A Whisker Away Will Make You Want to Be a Cat
A high school girl known as Miyo (but nicknamed Muge, short for mugendai nazo ningen or “limitless enigmatic human”) is in love with her classmate Hinode, but since she’s a little “KY” — kuuki yomenai, meaning a person who’s bad at reading social situations — she doesn’t realize she’s coming on a little too strong. One day she encounters a mysterious talking cat who gives her a mask that allows her to transform into a white cat named Taro. This allows her to get close to Hinode because her cat form resembles a cat he owned who died. There’s only one problem: in exchange for the cat mask, she’s required to give up her “human mask” to a certain cat in the story who desperately wants to live as a human. And if enough time goes by…she might have to remain a cat permanently.
A Whisker Away is a wonderful film, and everyone who has Netflix should make sure to watch it. It’s kind of a cross between Spirited Away and The Cat Returns, two of my favorite Ghibli films. It’s created by Junichi Sato, director of the first two seasons of the original Sailor Moon, and written by Mari Okada, the genius scriptwriter behind AnoHana, so you can expect some feels along the way.
The Age of Anime in 4K
I was pulled into the world of A Whisker Away because I liked the characters and the cat-transformation story, but also for another reason: the fantastic 4K visuals. I recently bought a new 4K OLED TV because whenever we enter an economic crisis I actually try to spend more money, to support the businesses around me as best I can. After upgrading to the 4K option on Netflix, the visuals were so impressive that Mrs. J-List and I were literally gasping at their beauty. Since 4K TVs are going for $800 or less at my local Japanese Costco, I’m pretty sure the era of anime in 4K being commonplace is going to happen sooner rather than later.
Meaning of ‘Nakitai Watashi wa Neko o Kaburu‘
The Japanese title of A Whisker Away translates to Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat. The phrase neko o kaburu literally means to wear a cat on your head, and expresses the idea of hiding your true nature in front of others, something like the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” In the case of Muge, she’s always acting cheerful and genki even though she’s going through a lot, due to anxiety over her father’s remarriage and her feelings towards Hinode.
There’s a whole category of cat-related phrases in Japanese, and when I was studying Japanese, I had fun trying to learn them all. Here are some common-ish cat-related words you might encounter in Japanese!
- neko-jita, or a “cat’s tongue.” It means someone who can’t stand to eat hot foods.
- neko no te mo karitai means “I’m so busy, I’d borrow a cat’s paw to get all my work done.”
- neko ni koban means “gold coins before a cat.” It means the same thing as “pearls before swine,” e.g. something that’s useless in a given situation.
- neko no hitai, literally “the forehead of a cat,” which is not very large. Someone might apologize for having a small house, saying, “Sorry my house is so cramped. It’s as small as the forehead of a cat!”
- nekomeshi, literally “cat-rice” is miso soup with rice mixed in. It’s terribly gauche and everyone’s embarrassed if their children eat this peasant food, yet my kids loved it growing up.
- nekoze or “cat’s back” is what a person with a hunched back is called. I have one of these after 20+ years of blogging about anime and Japan.
- umineko or “sea-cat” is a traditional word for a seagull because a seagull’s cry and cat’s meow sound similar. And we have the game in stock…
As you can tell, the Japanese love cats quite a lot.
Thanks for reading my post, and I hope you will check out A Whisker Away! Tell us what you thought of the film below, or let us know on Twitter!
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