Cats have always been notoriously stubborn creatures, but Nana is a different breed of feline. Initially an alley cat, Nana would reluctantly accept the occasional treat from kind humans, but this free little fur ball knew better than to ever allow himself to sink so low that he would become domesticized. That is, until he meets Satoru, a helpless but acceptable cat servant who saves Nana’s life after he finds the poor tabby injured on the side of the road. Now, after many nights spent under the same roof, this unlikely duo will embark on their final journey together, as Satoru searches for a new owner for his furry friend, and Nana does everything in his power to interrupt anything even remotely resembling a trial separation.
At first glance, it may appear as though the always-smiling Satoru might be a sweet but simple minded young man, a soft hearted but generous soul willing to cry for a cat he didn’t raise. However, as the pair mosey their way through the Fuji Mountains, down through lush golden blossoms and into the packed, vibrant street corners of Japan, it becomes more and more evident that Satoru’s life has been anything but easy.
A reuniting with old reliable Kosuke, one of Satoru’s childhood friends, reveals a sun-drenched flashback in which the two young boys take a field trip to Kyoto, and little Satoru has nothing on his mind except making sure to buy the proper facial blotting paper from the world famous Yojiya Store as a souvenir for his mother. Suddenly, Satoru is yanked away from the crowd of school children and privately informed that he has lost both of his parents in a freak car accident -- a moment that becomes all the more tragic once he’s pawned off to live with his Aunt Noriko and moved around so frequently that he can no longer hold on to his precious little sidekick, the family cat, Hachi. It’s a tough memory to watch, but ultimately, a necessary one, as it sheds a surprising light on this brave young man who otherwise might come across as untroubled, when he is in fact unshakeable.
Another meet up with old friends Chikako and Sugi manifests a moment in time when teenage Satoru takes a job to get to Takamatsu, only have his motivation hindered when he learns that his old buddy Hachi the house cat has passed. This touching flashback exposes the bittersweet moments when Satoru loses one of the few remaining pieces of his childhood that he has left, while simultaneously losing the love of his life to his best friend upon the realization that Sugi feels the same way about their girl. And yet, Satoru doesn’t recall their teen years with an air of distaste. If anything, Satoru extracts strength from his sorrows, manipulating moments capable of rendering a man catatonic into fond memories of the times when he felt most alive. In a roundabout way, Satoru’s perspective on life serves as an elevated example of the infinite beauty that stems from insurmountable pain.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Satoru’s cat Nana, a born cynic and extremely vocal little sarcastic beast, who actually helps narrate the pair’s expedition into various quarters across the nation. Nana watches all these friendly interactions with a keen sense of disgust. Constantly referring to her human companions as “spineless”, the hardened little stray is baffled by the amount of sappy emotions she sees her cat servants expressing to one another, and often pretentiously cites how felines become independent merely six months after their birth. Nana’s persistent facetious poking at every tough situation in the film coincidentally creates a sense of levity in an otherwise unforgiving world, thereby morphing his sadness into strength as well, as he blatantly rejects the notion of being pawned off to a new owner. In a very special and guarded way, Nana is the relatable anchor of this overtly sentimental movie, showing that even the most hardboiled souls secretly harbor a need to be loved.
This road trip may have started as an endearing departure down memory lane, but ultimately, as the fog clears and the story shows itself for what it really is, the tale takes on an even deeper meaning about loss, loyalty, perseverance, and the value of friendship. Nana’s refusal to leave Satoru’s side, no matter how many miles away that familiar nook may be, speaks to that little quiet and sheltered vulnerable part in all of us. Director Koichiro Miki’s beautifully genuine adaptation of the popular Travelling Cat Chronicles book reaches out to the part in every person that they hide away from the world. Through silly, everyday routines, to trickier, more demanding life moments, this movie far exceeds its premise of a story about a man and his cat. In the end, it becomes a wonderfully touching and vigorously demonstrative fable about the power of perspective, and how even the person whose path has sometimes seemed too much to bear can look back and say that why yes, of course, it was a very happy life, and know it to be true. It’s a movie that we need right now, to remind us to be strong, and to retain positivity, no matter what the world throws at us.