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The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し/Neko no Ongaeshi)

JAPANESE ANIME SPOT / Miyazaki Hayao (50)

The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し, Neko no Ongaeshi) is a Japanese animated film directed by Hiroyuki Morita, produced by Studio Ghibli and theatrically released in Japan in 2002 and United States in 2003.
It received an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival.

In 1995, Studio Ghibli released a film titled Whisper of the Heart, based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi, about a girl writing a fantasy novel. Although the girl's life had no magical elements, short fantasy scenes depicted what the girl was writing about. Those short scenes were so popular that fans demanded that a film be made of the fictional girl's novel: That film was The Cat Returns.

The Cat Returns began life as the "Cat Project" in 1999. Studio Ghibli received a request from a Japanese theme park to create a 20-minute short starring cats. Hayao Miyazaki wanted three key things to feature in the short — these were the Baron, Muta (Moon), and a mysterious antique shop. Hiiragi was commissioned to create the manga equivalent of the short, which is called Baron: The Cat Returns (バロン 猫の男爵 Baron: Neko no Danshaku, lit. Baron: the Cat Baron) and is published in English by Viz Media. Once again it was written from Shizuku's perspective, roughly two years in her future. The theme park later cancelled the project.

The story follows a girl called Haru, a quiet, shy and unassuming high school student who has a long-suppressed ability to talk to cats. One day she saves a darkly colored, odd-eyed cat from being hit by a truck on a busy road. The cat turns out to be Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom. In return, the cats shower her with gifts of catnip and mice — and then she is offered the Prince's hand in marriage. Her mixed reply is taken as a yes.

Please enjoy the below video (Full story of "The Cat Returns") provided by Google. 

Neko_no_Ongaeshi.avi  (The Cat Returns)

Immersed in desperation over this unwanted development, Haru hears a kind female voice which tells her to seek out the Cat Bureau. Haru meets Muta, a large white cat the voice told her to seek for directions, who leads her there to meet the Baron, who happens to be a cat figurine given life by the hard work of his artist, and Toto, a stone raven who comes to life much like the Baron. Soon after meeting them, Haru and Muta are taken to the Cat Kingdom by force, leaving Toto and the Baron in the human world only to be followed by them. The Baron and his feathered friend finally find the entrance to the Cat Kingdom on Earth — five lakes forming a cat's paw.

Haru is conducted to a feast at the castle of the Cat Kingdom and she begins to slowly turn into a cat — with tan paws, ears, and whiskers, though still mainly human — so that she will make a suitable bride for the Prince. At the feast, the Baron (in disguise) dances with Haru as part of the entertainment, and reveals to her that the more she loses herself in the kingdom, the more cat like she will become, and that she has to discover her true self; before being discovered and fighting off the guards so that he may rescue her. They are helped by Yuki, a white female cat who works as a servant in the palace and who had tried to warn Haru to leave the Cat Kingdom before she was taken to the castle. Yuki shows them an escape leading to a tunnel.

Haru, the Baron, and Muta's escape leads them through a maze to a tower, which contains a portal back into Haru's world. The King goes through a series of efforts to keep them in the Cat Kingdom long enough for Haru to remain trapped in the form of a cat so that he can still have her as his daughter-in-law, going so far as to actually collapsing the tower.

Lune and his guards return to the Cat Kingdom to reveal that the King was not acting on his behalf and he has no desire to marry Haru; he has instead planned on proposing to Yuki. Also, Muta is revealed to be a notorious criminal in the Kingdom (having devoured a whole lake of fish in one session), and Yuki as being the strange voice who'd advised Haru to go to the Cat Bureau. In her childhood Haru had saved Yuki from starvation by giving her the fish cookies she was eating, and Yuki has now repaid her kindness.

Eventually, Haru, Muta and the Baron escape the Cat Realm, with the aid of Prince Lune and Toto, and Haru discovers her true self and tells the Baron how she has come to feel about him. He tells her he admires her sincerity but it is left unclear whether he returns her affections. Haru returns to the human world with more confidence in herself; upon learning that her former flame has broken up with his girlfriend, she simply replies, "It doesn't matter anymore".

By A.S. on Jan 4, 2010

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