Recommendation: A Whisker Away is a spiritual successor in the vein of Miyazaki and Makato. Sandwiching a teenage love story with undertones of abandonment, judgement, and walking a mile in another’s shoes, the film is more than just a skin deep whimsical affair. 7.5/10.

IMDB Synopsis: Miyo Sasaki in love with her classmate Kento Hinode and tries repeatedly to get Kento’s attention by transform into a cat, but at some point, the boundary between herself and the cat becomes ambiguous.

The movie follows Miyo Sasaki (Mirai Shida), an exuberant and cheerful junior high student, as she navigates her affection, borderline obsession, for Kento Hinode (Natsuki Hanae), a fellow student whose reserved and indifferent nature couldn’t stand in starker contrast. Miyo’s unabashed, extroverted nature toward Hinode has earned her the moniker, Muge—Miss Ultra Gaga and Enigmatic—but it’s taken in stride. However, her outward appearance belies her true nature: a girl whose heart is closed off, smiling through the pain of her mother’s abandonment.

The film begins in medias res with Miyo having made a bargain with a magical, portly (and clearly evil) cat for a kitsune feline mask that allows her to transform into a cat at will. The film is a bit jarring to start but the rules and structure of the world begin to fall into place quickly. There’s a dichotomy in Miyo and HinodeMs relationship: Teenage Miyo cannot get through to the aloof Hinode, yet cat-Miyo has endeared herself to him as an adorable stray.

As Hinode allows cat-Miyo into his life, Miyo uses the opportunity to gather intelligence on him. The dynamic is lopsided at first but as the second act rolls, the depth of its characters and the brewing tension of the relationship becomes clear. The themes handled during this act are much older than the bright and gorgeously animated wrapper of the film would suggest.

Without spoiling, the central tension involves mixed wires in the teen romance, a secondary cat/human swap, and escalates to a third act chase scene on Cat Island: a setting that would be at home in any Ghibli film. Being a love story, the film is sweet, but not overly so, choosing to artfully mix humor, sadness, and sappiness in just the right amounts. Ultimately, A Whisker Away is a highly competent and gorgeously realized, if a little predictable, that boldly carries on the spirit of Japanese animation to a wide international audience.

Find it here on Netflix.

Highlights: The film is visually stunning. The voice acting is top notch. Let’s hope this is the first of many for Netflix.

Directors: Jun’ichi Satô, Tomotaka Shibayama

Studio: Netflix // Release date: June 18, 2020