Apparently I only get these things done during the holidays – sorry for the delay, all! I also renewed my New Year’s resolution from last year to do this blog, and I feel like now that I’ve told you that, I have no choice but to do it more often. Because now you know, dear reader, and you’re watching…. Always watching.
Now that I’ve creeped up your day, let’s get to the topic of today’s post – Miyazaki and Holiday Miscellany. Frantically working on several projects in the dark days before Christmas, I watched several films, so there will probably be several blog posts. I also just realized that this is the first CineCrochet post about an actual movie. Hurrah for actually following my own criteria! In keeping with the Japanese theme of my previous, long-ago post, let’s break out our crochet hooks and whimsy. The time has come for a peek into the flight-filled, pig-populated, and generally wonderful world of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
What better way to incorporate lengthy spells of crocheting than with a movie marathon? Well, there are probably several better ways, but few would involve the works of Studio Ghibli. Before this marathon, I was familiar with the ‘Big Name’ Miyazaki movies; the ones any film student worth their salt could name off, your Spirited Away-s, Princess Mononoke-s, and My Neighbor Totoro-s. I’ve adored all of these, with my favorite being Princess Mononoke. So this time, I decided to delve a little deeper into the Ghibli pantheon and begin with the studio’s lesser-known films, starting with The Cat Returns (2002).
To accompany me on this cinematic adventure, I began making a passel of granny squares to be used for makeshift earwarmers and whatever else I can come up with fr Christmas gifts The earwarmers are a pattern I just sort of made up after realizing I hadn’t made granny squares in a coon’s age, and the time had come. Here’s a granny square pattern just in case you’re curious about that sort of thing and off we go! And beware, dear reader – Spoilers Abound.
The Cat Returns is a rather unassuming little Ghibli film. It doesn’t have the bombast or depth of Mononoke, for example, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It opens with our main character, Haru, voiced by a pre-Les Miserables, but post-Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway. Haru is an awkward but completely normal and quietly hilarious girl. Some of the lines that Hathaway comes up with in this dub are just gold – I never really thought of her as a comedic actress (Never much cared for The Princess Diaries – imagine the appalled gasps of my classmates when I was in junior high), but here she has some line deliveries and ad-libs that had me surprised-laugh more than once. Hathaway’s dub is really strong, and she adds a lot to a character that could very easily have been annoying in the hands (mouth?) of a lesser actor.
Haru never seems to be able to disembark from the struggle bus. She wakes up late for school constantly, the boy she likes doesn’t know she exists, she’s kind of a weird, put-upon outcast. Not in a blatant way, but you only see her hang out with one or two people her own age.
This all changes when she rescues a cat who just wanders out into the street like it ain’t no thang (seriously – am I overthinking it, or does that cat deliberately go out into the street. It looks right at the cars like it KNOWS… I need to start a blog that just allows me to overthink things like this. We’ll call it Elise Never Shuts Up About Trivial Happenings in Film.) Our protagonist snatches the cat off the road with a lacrosse stick and is rewarded by making her question her sanity when the cat gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off, and thanks her for saving him. This suicidal fellow (but not… it’s just… YOU KNEW THE CARS WERE GOING TO MOVE. WHY ARE WE PRETENDING YOU DIDN’T?) happens to be the prince of the Cat Kingdom. In saving his life, Haru will now be showered with all of the wondrous gifts that a cat kingdom can bestow.
They’re pretty terrible gifts. Hopefully that’s not a harbinger for these earwarmers. Anyway, the cats are obviously familiar enough with the human world that they know where to find Haru, and how to interact with things while just seeming to be ordinary, non-English speaking creatures. Who are also not bipedal. But they gift her with things like catnip and mice in wee boxes stuffed into her locker. You would think they would be aware that there are not things that humans would enjoy. The scope of the cats’ ineptitude is pretty hilarious, actually. Confusing, considering their obvious knowledge, but hilarious.
Meanwhile, on the crocheting front, I’m cranking out squares like an octogenarian preparing for the local craft show. Lookit ‘em all! And I’m only about a third into the film! I’d forgotten how easy granny squares are. For realz, give ‘em a try at home, folks!
Haru is fed up with these cats and their awful gift-giving. She complains to a little toadie cat, who offers her the final, most wondrous gift : she will be married to the Cat Prince that she had saved. While Haru considers this for only a moment – she doesn’t fit in well in the human world, perhaps the world of cats would better suit her – she quickly comes to her senses and tries to protest to The Toadie who has already taken off to tell the good news to the King of Cats. Who is like a perpetually drunk, bug-eyed old hippie… in cat form and voiced by Tim Curry. Just… just let that roll around in your head for a bit.
Panicked, because Haru knows that despite her protestations she will be carried off the cat kingdom regardless, she hears a mysterious voice telling her to seek help at the Cat Bureau. There, she meets Poofy Peter Boyle Cat, Stone Elliot Gould Raven, and Dapper-Ass Carey Elwes Cat Figurine… Cat. Don’t judge – it’s about as logical as his actual name, Baron Humbert von Gikkigen. The voice actors for these characters are a kick, but for different reasons.
Peter Boyle is very odd as a voice actor. He has a kind of deadpan sound to most of his lines, as if he’s very obviously reading them. But somehow this translates perfectly to his bored, sarcastic character, so I end up laughing whenever he speaks nonetheless. He’s just a hoot and one of my favorite things in this film.
Elliot Gould was driving me crazy – it took me way longer to place his voice than it should have. But the banter between his character and Peter Boyle Cat is great, since they’re both legendary smartasses.
Ah, Carey Elwes. Your voice is a balm for the Anglophile soul. I know it’s not your real accent, but’s just so damn beautiful. You can do no wrong. (Until this theory is tested in Porco Rosso).
These characters assure Haru that they will protect her from the ‘generosity’ of the cats. Peter Boyle Cat had been banished from the kingdom long ago, and knows it best. They begin making plans for how to reason with or just straight-up avoid the cats of the Cat Kingdom. Then The Toadie appears like a stalker and interrupts the tea party to carry Haru away on a sea of cats. A sea of cats with magic portal powers. Just when you think the movie can’t get any weirder, it goes and does something like give cats magic portal powers.
Elliot Gould Raven and Dapper-Ass Carey Elwes are in hot pursuit, with Peter Boyle Cat also struggling to stay on the sea of cats, trying to reach Haru. The cat fleet jumps into a portal, and Dapper and the Raven just barely miss it. They need to find another way to get to Haru, as she is now trapped in the Cat Kingdom.
While this was going on, I realized you never really know when to stop when making Granny Squares. It’s like eating Lays. Or playing Doodle Jump. Once you start, it gets more and more difficult to quit. Before you know it, your hands are covered in grease, yarn is everywhere, and you’ve just spent all of your hard-jumped coins on a sumo outfit.
After that fever dream, Haru wakes up in the cat kingdom. She is suddenly much smaller than Peter Boyle Cat, and he and the other residents explain that she is slowly beginning to turn into a cat. She needs to get out of there quickly, but they’re taken into the kingdom by a more polite fleet of castle cats, and the madness only persists.
Haru begins turning into a cat and bugging out and Peter Boyle Cat dies in a bowl of catnip jelly and is wheeled about like a horrifying crown jewel. Only he’s not really dead, just sleeping in an agonized manner…? It’s not really explained, as he just pops out of the jelly jar and stars bashing heads when the time comes.
I have plenty of squares by this point, and need to figure out a way to connect them while minimizing the derpiness factor. And I’ve taken to finishing them and just tossing them on the floor, creating a carpetlike effect. It’s pretty keen. I began joining them with sc along one edge, tying off, and working the next one in line.
Once I have seven squares joined (they go around my wee head with room to spare, so I assume it would fit the head of a normal human), I join them in a circle and sc around the top and bottom edges. They look kind of like film strips, actually. How fitting.
Back in the film, we find that apparently it is a requirement for Carey Elwes characters to appear in their movie in a mask, expecting not be recognized. And to be dapper as hell. However, he declares that he is “exactly who he appears to be.”
The rest of the film is pretty much a race against time to get Haru out of the Cat Kingdom before she becomes a cat forever. I’ve spoiled enough already, and I don’t want to give away the ending to those who have not seen it, as it is rather touching.
And now for something new on CineCrochet – a multitude of headings!
Instead of assaulting you with (mostly) derivative things during the recap, these things now get their own section. Rejoice!
Did I mention that the epitome of a person (or cat) in this world is the “coolness” they exude; “I just think he’s so darn cool!” says Haru of her crush, and the same is said of Cat Prince by The Toadie. It’s just a weird anachronism of the movie. I found it mildly distracting, but not enough to keep it from being enjoyable.
Do only cats with tux markings get promoted to being bodyguards?
“King of cat kingdom, the CAT KING!” – Master of Obvious Ceremonial Titles
Did the cats steal all of those lacrosse sticks? Do they have a Lacrosse Stick-Making Factory in the Cat Kingdom? Or is there an owner of a nearby sporting goods store weeping at the loss of all of his/her lacrosse inventory?
That specialized eraser-beating stick is boss.
How does one go about making their own special blend of tea?
Why does a member of the cat band have a dumpster on his head? I would imagine it makes it difficult to play his clarinet/flute. (Clute?) I wish I could find a picture for you to see what I am talking about, but the internet is refusing to oblige.
The Waking Nightmare Award:
There are several moments in the running for this most prestigious award. For example:
How many riotously-laughing subjects are killed during an average dinner party in the Cat Kingdom? Is there just a pile of corpses beneath the window of the ballroom?
There are also giant floating disembodied eyes floating around the Cat Kingdom. They’re apparently like CCTV for the king, controlled via remote. But that knowledge doesn’t lessen the creepy. They just kind of show up and are never mentioned again.
However, the award has to go to Maybe-Dead Peter Boyle Cat Trapped in Catnip Jelly. The horror…
Best Single-Line Character:
“Maybe she has some catnip on her.” – Never Acknowledged Hipster-Glasses Girl
Favorite Miyazaki Trademark:
The Female Hero. Haru’s a different one, as she so average and relatable. We can talk all day about Princess Mononoke, but it can be agreed that San is hardly an average girl. With Haru, you can imagine yourself reacting similar to how she does. She’s not over-the-top, she knows when to be quiet and when to speak her mind, she’s funny, awkward, kind of dense, and eventually, very comfortable with herself. She’s a bit of a damsel in distress, but with as little knowledge as she has of the cat world, I’m not sure she could have managed a lot of this stuff on her own. She does what she can, but she’s also not afraid to ask for help when she needs it.
I still have a passel of granny squares to find something to do with, but the headbands I ended up with look pretty legit.
The Cat Returns, for all of the grief I give it, was a thoroughly enjoyable little flick. It has the potential to be annoying, but comes across as endearing instead. It has a strong voice cast, lovely animation, and is weird as hell. The plot is a bit of a struggle, but if you’re willing to look past it and just go along for the ride, it’s decent enough. If you’re looking for some Ghibli that’s simple, but still full of wonder, this will fit the bill and then some.
Next Time on CineCrochet:
Holiday Miscellany and Miyazaki, Part the Second: Porco Rosso.
Will yours truly find a use for all of these granny squares? Will minds be blown by a flick in which pigs can fly? But most importantly, will the post be done within a timely manner (not four months after the fact)? Stay tuned!