Review for Mad Cats

9 / 10


I always look forward to the first release of the year from Third Window Films. I don’t know why, as their commitment to quality cinema never wavers over the course of any particular year. I just fool myself into thinking that their first release will be an indicator of how good the rest of the year will be. Last year it was Electric Dragon 80000V, the year before that it was Hiruko the Goblin, and before that it was the Ujicha Collection. Try and draw any conclusions from that trio! This year they are kicking off with Mad Cats, as un-Japanese a Japanese film can get without leaving the country. The only bit of trivia that might help is that Japanese folklore has this thing about animals assuming human form, and there are three trickster animals in particular to be wary of, the fox, the tanuki, and the monster cat.

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Taka Kurosawa is a dropout. He lives in a caravan, where the usual human contact amounts to the landlady haranguing him for unpaid rent, and nagging him to get off his butt and get a job. But it’s a strange letter that finally convinces him to move. He get an audio tape in the mail, with a message from a strange woman, telling him his archaeologist brother is being held prisoner at the place the brothers once found a black cat, that he has to go and rescue him, and in the process retrieve a wooden box, and also to beware of enemies. Taka’s off on his bike to the rescue... Two weeks later he gets to his destination, where he finds a gang of crazy homicidal women standing against him. Luckily, he finds one crazy homicidal woman to help him on his quest.

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The Disc

Mad Cats gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese soundtrack, with optional English subtitles. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, and colours are consistent. It’s a digitally shot film, and has that typical haze of lower budget productions, but it’s watchable enough. When it comes to the film’s locations, it’s very much punching above its low budget weight, and it’s a surprise to hear that it was shot wholly in Japan. There were parts that looked European, parts that looked American, and none of it actually looked Japanese, other than half the cast and the language. The audio is good, a nice immersive surround track that throws action and effects around the soundstage with suitable impact. The dialogue is clear, and the subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos. It’s a film that doesn’t need too much in the way of dialogue though. The music is excellent, a great selection of songs that would make you seek out a soundtrack CD (or a download).

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The disc boots to an animated menu, and you’ll find the following extras.

Director Reiki Tsuno Interview (27:49)
Behind the Scenes (8:40)
Fight Rehearsals to On-Screen Comparison (5:08)
Teaser Trailer (0:36)
Trailer (1:27)
Director Reiki Tsuno Commentary

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It still astounds me that this film was shot wholly in Japan, as it looks in no way to have been shot there. There is a whole lot of location shooting, and there are gorgeous mountains and hills, exquisitely winding roads, a Georgian mansion, an American diner, and car parks, and airports, and rundown golfing ranges and the like that could literally be anywhere else in the world. It’s an indication that Japan can be just as versatile for film as New Zealand was when it came to making the Lord of the Rings movies. It also helps that there is a conscious effort to minimise the film’s cultural identity, trying to make the story as universal as possible. At the same time it tries to be as timeless as possible, shorn of pop culture and technology that could date it. The most modern tech in the film is a cassette boom-box, and a transistor radio. Minus the non-essentials, Mad Cats becomes purely about the story and the characters, and I have to say that it is a joyous blast!

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Mad Cats is a cult comedy action horror, with just a hint of the Indiana Jones about it. The main character Taka’s brother is an archaeologist who went to Egypt investigating an ancient cat deity, and discovered something that pulled him into trouble of the worst kind. He wound up provoking a group of monster cats in human form, and now he’s paying the price, in captivity, witnessing their worst depredations as they hunt down and execute pet shop owners from all over.

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Taka’s just mooching around in the trailer park, avoiding responsibility, when he gets the mysterious message describing his brother’s predicament, and explaining how to rescue him. Taka’s not the most ideal hero; he’s not too smart, and more than a little cowardly, but he’s all there is. His first attempt is only partially successful; he just gets away with the wooden box, but it turns out that the contents of the box are what the women keeping his brother captive crave most. Soon there are random killers chasing after him to get the box back. Each of this gang has their own special skills, personal weapons, and varying degrees of insanity.

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During the first encounter with a pitchfork brandishing siren, Taka meets his first reluctant ally on this adventure, a homeless man named Takezo, who was only trying to protect his dinner (a can of cat food), and who winds up dragged into this fight for survival. It becomes something of a road trip as they keep dodging attackers, and it’s at the diner that they encounter the final member of their group, the equally feline and lethal Ayane, but who for some reason sides with them in trying to keep the box out of the gang’s hands, and to rescue Taka’s brother.

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There are plenty of confrontations and fights with the various mad cats sent out by their leader to retrieve the box, but it’s all leading to a finale back at that mansion, which for a moment suggests a fight sequence akin to that stairway fight in The Matrix Reloaded, before the budget injects a note of common sense. Bad-ass female characters, milquetoast males, some skilfully choreographed action, a surprisingly effective story, and no little humour makes Mad Cats a great way to kick off 2024. Put this on your must buy list and you won’t be disappointed.

Mad Cats is available from Terracotta, from Arrow Films, and from mainstream retailers.

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