Over the years, transformation in animation has fascinated me. Whether they be whimsical or sometimes violent, just something about things being turned into other things just draws my attention.
Upon seeing a trailer for the Netflix release A Whisker Away in early-summer 2020, it’s story seemed a intriguing.
After encountering a strange mask seller at a summer festival, Miyo Sasaki finds a cat mask she got from him, has the ability to temporarily turn her into a cat. When a boy at her school named Kento Hionde finds her in her cat-form and takes her in on the assumption that she’s a stray, Miyo begins to lead a double-life. By day she attends school with Kento, and for a few hours every evening, she visits him as a cat. As things in her human life begin to weigh heavily on her mind, Miyo begins to ponder if life as Kento’s pet may not be so bad after all.
After watching the film, it felt like a better concept was shown in the minute-long trailer that had first intrigued me. Once I had thought about what I had watched, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the film was a beautiful mess.
Part of the mess happens to lie in how the characters are depicted.
After a rather confusing opening, we get to see Miyo in full-on “crush-mode,” loudly hip-checking Kento in the morning, and becoming a drooling lovesick wreck at times, while Kento himself just seems to quietly find her actions annoying.
The film slowly attempts to chalks up Miyo’s quirky behavior to problems within her family, as she struggles with being a child of divorce. One would expect we’d get some deep drama as she adjusts to life with a new stepmother, but the filmmakers jettison some much-needed introspection in favor of her “obsession” with Kento.
Kento also isn’t very well-developed either. We only get a few faint bits of information about his personality, let alone his struggles to find an identity that may not be what his widowed mother wants him to be.
The film’s inability to work on developing the characters’ back stories, let alone give us some more time understanding Miyo’s struggles being both human and cat, prove to be some of the most frustrating parts of the film. The filmmakers want to take the easy way out, hoping these tiny-yet-unsatisfying glimpses into Miyo and Kento’s lives will allow us to connect-the-dots, and buy that these two kids belong together no matter what.
It also doesn’t help that the film’s youthful characters and cat-like imagery, put me in mind of a few much better films from Studio Ghibli. At times, it feels like that studio’s feature films Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns served as major inspirations for this tale. Unfortunately, if there was inspiration taken from those two films, it was mainly the style of those films over the deeper substance of bettering yourself, or working to understand who you are.
If there’s something positive I can say about the film, it is that the background paintings are really eye-catching! There’s some top-notch artistry on display here, though it largely shines in the third act when the film finally throws us into a whole other world.
What is strange at times, is it feels like most of the scenes are set up to show us more of the world surrounding Miyo and the others. Camera angles most of the time tend to draw our focus to the environments, shoving characters to the side or into the background, as if the characters are more of an “afterthought” to what we are seeing.
In conclusion, A Whisker Away is a beautifully-rendered production, that attempts to tell a flimsy “young love story.” It’s attempts to make us care and root for Miyo never becomes engaging enough, and the characters around her barely register enough to get us fully-invested in the overall story. It also isn’t a good sign that as I watched the film, I kept thinking of numerous ways the story could have been improved. When I start trying to improve on what I’m seeing, it’s a good sign that the film has some problems.
Final Grade: C