. . . neko!’
That is the call repeated throughout Naoko Ogigami’s (Kamome Diner; Toilet) latest film Rent-a-Cat, a calling out of ones wares for sale – in this case for rent – reminiscent of the horn that announces the tofu seller or the I-shi-yaaaaa-ki-imo! of the steamed sweet potato seller. The main character, whom I will initially call, like the two rude school kids she continually runs into within the film, the ‘cat lady’, since fully naming her results in a tad bit of a reveal, pulls her rickshaw of felines for hire with that drawn out self-echoed trademarked catch phrase.
This is not the only bit of repetition in the film. As my tired self forced me to break up this film over three separate evenings during my first viewing, Shunichi Fushima’s editing and Ogigami’s screenplay allow for perfect daily installments. The film basically has four segments, the first three each featuring the ‘cat lady’ finding a lonely soul with a hole that she can fill with the perfect cat for each customer. When the contract is signed, each customer asks the cat lady how much, and she always holds up one finger, causing the customers to mistake the finger for the wrong amount, followed by sincere concern whether the cat lady is able to survive with such a small fee. The cat lady then purports to be more than a cat lady with a second job made up on the spot and performed in the following scene. Each new profession involves the help of her wealth of feline friends. It is only the fourth segment of the film that diverts from this working repetition.
Cats have always pursued our cat lady, but perhaps because of this fact, she hasn’t been pursued by men. In an effort to will marriage upon her, she calligraphies this desire on her wall and hopes for matrimonial fruition by the end of the year. Her neighbor ridicules such efforts, but eventually a possible suitor falls back into her life as we’d expect from romantic comedies. Yet where Ogigami takes this obligatory appearance is not what we have learned to expect from the repetitive tropes of the genre.
That Rent-a-Cat steers clear of the typical romantic comedy path is what makes it perfect for the festival circuit, such as the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival running from October 4th-11th, from whom I was provided the screener. Rent-a-Cat provides one of those strange festival-screening moments where a festival-goer wonders what they had just strayed into, yet it’s because of this very absurdity that the film stays with you long after the festival has closed. This off-kilter world makes one question bringing logic from our world to that of Rent-a-Cat. For example, her rude neighbor is a woman played by a male actor. The internal logic of Rent-a-Cat encourages us to question whether or not this character is a ‘transvestite’. Perhaps this masculine femininity, or feminine masculinity, is as regular an occurrence in this world Ogigami has created as someone whose job it is to rent out cats.
It is this just the right smidgen of absurdity provided by the director/writer Ogigami and lead actress Mikako Ichikawa that keeps us engaged and grounded in the world without throwing us too far off into ridiculousness. This is not a brilliant film, but it is brilliant for a lazy summer day viewing. Or, if you live in San Francisco like I do, where summer only comes roughly 2 weeks out of the year, it is a perfect film for that desire for a moment of respite from the Richmond District’s fog, where one finds a lazy bright summer day that allows you to imagine rolling around in the heat like Rent-a-Cat‘s characters, a day of climate ripe for an ice bar or cold beer.
Fri, 10/12 6:00 PM at the Rafael Theatre in San Rafael, California.