A Whisker Away follows the tale of a young girl Miyo Sasaki, who struggles with her everyday teenage life as she balances separation, disconnect, and unrequited love. Things begin to pick up once she encounters a strange cat spirit known as the Mask Seller. Promising the answer to all her problems, the feline apparition offers a cat mask that allows Miyo to shape-shift into a cat. Assuming the form of Taro, the cat, she gradually gains the affection of Kento Hinode, her crush. Unfortunately, otherworldy solutions to mundane problems will always lead to unpredictable results. Even magic has its limits.
A Whisker Away is a young adult fantasy that takes the age old question of “Wouldn’t life be so much simpler as a pet?” with a touch of romance. Unfortunately, the relationship between owner and cat is completely different than one of mutual, shared love. Our heroine Miyo is an interesting character. The movie’s opening scenes make it pretty clear how rambunctious and socially awkward of a girl she is, so it’s no wonder that she’s struggling with getting her feelings out and forming relationships in general. Miyo practically worships Kento to the point that it disgusts him.
When the mask seller busts into her life, maybe you can starts to understand why Miyo would jump at the opportunity to disguise herself as a cat and insert herself into Kento’s life. Kento himself is struggling with his strict mother’s disdain towards his passion for traditional pottery and shuts himself off from most of the world in response., but he’s more than happy to get cutesy and snuggly with a little stray kitten, and Miyo is happy to finally have Kento’s attention. Now, I think any of us watching A Whisker Away would think:
“This scenario raises all sorts of questions about privacy, consent, and personal boundaries.”
…And the movie never seems to address how creepy and weird that is! Think about it: can you imagine how weird and awful it would be if we discovered that our two cats were actually people who were in love with us? Now, in Japanese folklore and myths this does actually happen (to a degree). Sometimes, an animal yokai becomes infatuated with a human, and assumes a humanoid form. But a teenage girl doing this for a boy under the guise of a cat? Its one thing for a cat to shove its butt in your face all of the time because, I mean, it’s a cat, and that’s just what cats do. Now imagine if that cat was actually a person doing seemingly innocuous cat-things when in actuality it was someone making advances towards you.
I don’t have to spell it out for you. I’m sure you get the gist of it.
Thankfully, while the movie’s plot never quite reaches for anything more nuanced or moving than something akin to a Disney movie, it at least has the visuals and production values going for it. Studio Colorido has been making a name for itself with its recent anime films (Penguin Highway, Toho Animation, etc.), but they did not cut short on A Whisker Away’s lush backgrounds and lively character animation. There’s one scene on which Miyo thrashes about in her room in a dizzying fit of romantic frenzy that feels wholly accurate to what it feels like to be head over heels in love as a youngster, and nearly every scene with the Mask Seller is a joy to behold. The rubberhose, cartoonish animation stretching and flailing about really sells his otherworldly presence. Not to mention the soundtrack. Seriously Mina Kubota did not cut any corners, and it shows through the bubbly OST. Props to the voice actors too, they did pretty well despite the movie’s strange script.
When it comes down to it, I can appreciate A Whisker Away more for what its trying to be than really anything else. It is a gorgeously animated fairy tale that never quite manages to sell its romance, nor does it fully exude the magical whimsy experience. Like its heroine, the movie is clumsy and a little tone-deaf just as often as it is spirited and vibrant, though all it really wants is to be loved, and to make people smile. If you’re into cats, silly stories, or convoluted romances, this movie is for you. Just sit back, relax, and just enjoy the movie for what it is.