The Cat Leaves Home (Inu neko), Nami Iguchi’s debut feature, is described in the catalog of the 22nd Torino Film Festival, where I saw it, as Ozu-esque. The film indeed contains what appear to be specific references to Ozu: the titles with their Japanese characters placed symmetrically over cloth; a couple of cutaways to a dress hung out to dry. On the whole, Iguchi’s film more closely resembles Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Ozu tribute, Café Lumière , than it does any single film by Ozu: the protagonists of both Café Lumière and The Cat Leaves Home are young women living in contemporary Tokyo; both films are highly dedramatized and concerned with domestic arrangements; they both depict male-female relationships in which sexuality appears to be of secondary importance or at any rate is not directly confronted; both have a light, clean, airy visual quality and a relaxed sense of space; both are films whose deep theme is the struggle by young people to imagine a future to believe in.
In The Cat Leaves Home , the female protagonist is tripled: two young women, Suzu and Yoko, temporarily occupy the apartment of a third, Abe, who departs during the course of the narrative to study in China. We get to know Abe the least, but as she’s the one who makes a decision of which the other two are incapable, it’s her resolve that shows up their indecisiveness, passionlessness, and failure to commit themselves – thus giving moral weight to the slight story.
Suzu and Yoko are opposites, rivals; the Japanese title of the film (which means “Dog Cat”) alludes to a tension between them that gradually moves to the forefront of the movie. Suzu is cheerful and bright; her characteristic actions, repeated several times during the film, are to provide food for other people and to call sweetly for Abe’s cat, Mu (the English subtitles spell it “Moo,” but here perhaps we should hear another reference to Ozu, on whose grave is inscribed a word usually transliterated as “mu,” and which has been translated as “nothingness”). Yoko is dark, quiet, grim, and resentful: she seeks contact with a young man who avoids her, and, we learn rather late in the film, the boyfriend whom Suzu has abruptly abandoned was once Yoko’s boyfriend.
Yoko’s dark-framed eyeglasses, a key object in the film, are contrasted with Suzu’s invisible contact lenses. The eyeglasses are a burden; Suzu suggests that Yoko would be more popular and appealing without them. But Yoko can’t stand having anything touch her eyes. Suzu and Yoko have the same vision – they can use each other’s lenses without impairing their sight – a circumstance that reflects their shared interest in the same men and that hints at other qualities they share. The eyeglasses imply both self-concealment and a definite orientation toward the world, perhaps a position of judgment, whereas Suzu’s contact lenses indicate her assumed ease in inhabiting the world.
The Cat Leaves Home is a film of tact, lightness, and considerable understatement. Its payoffs all come late, in the scenes devoted to the role-switch between Suzu and Yoko. Here the film’s qualities – its carefully planned shots, its clarity of movement, its dry humor – cease to be pleasing ends in themselves and make sense as parts of a firm and intelligent cinematic design.
© FIPRESCI 2004