Books: She and Her Cat
Family & Animation

Books: She and Her Cat

By Andrew Osmond.

She and Her Cat was one of the first turned-on films by Makoto Shinkai, five minutes of software-aided monochrome that he made mostly by himself, three years surpassing Voices of a Distant Star. It’s on Anime Limited’s edition of Voices and Place Promised in Our Early Days. The mucosa shows the tropical relationship between a woman and her cat, narrated from the cat’s doting viewpoint. Shinkai voiced the feline himself.

Now the mucosa has a “novelisation”, increasingly precisely a novella towers on the film’s starting point. It’s published in English by Penguin, which has decided not to play up its links to a feted anime mucosa director. There’s no “From the director of Your Name” imbricate tag, nor any struggle to suggest anime in the imbricate picture. Penguin could have imitated the cover of the She and Her Cat manga, published several years ago by Vertical.

Instead, Penguin chooses to highlight the book’s translator, Ginny Tapley Takemori, who translated a bestselling single-female Japanese novel, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. The book’s Amazon page adds a remoter “If you liked…” pointer, to The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arakawa. That’s a very interesting judgement call. Plainly the publisher knew Shinkai was a big name, but decided that foregrounding him would interest fewer readers than linking the typesetting to Japanese novels well-nigh single women and cats.

There’s one increasingly complication. The typesetting isn’t just by Shinkai, as there’s a co-author name on the cover, Naruki Nakagawa. Weirdly, he’s not profiled in the “About the Authors” section, which just covers Shinkai and Takemori. Clearly this is the same Nakagawa with anime writing credits on Ergo Proxy and Halo Legends, and on ananime remake of She and Her Cat. Shinkai didn’t uncontrived this remake, which was made by Liden Films in 2016, the year of Your Name. Directed by Kazuya Sakamoto, Liden’s version runs well-nigh twenty minutes and is subtitled “Everything Flows.”

However, it bears very little resemblance to the typesetting vastitude their shared debts to the Shinkai short. One of the few “extra” details in the Liden version that I spotted in the typesetting was a scuttlebutt well-nigh how the sound of a train evoked the power of the spinning Earth. You might well think that originated with Shinkai. Remember the sequence in 5 Centimetres where a train stuck in snow is presented like a ship lost in space, or so it feels to a boy held untied from his beloved.

The typesetting was published in Japan in 2013, three years before the Liden Films remake, which makes attributions plane harder. Without an Afterword clarifying who wrote what, we’re left to guess how much of the She and Her Cat typesetting was written by Nakagawa rather than Shinkai. Shinkai’s name is first, but what does that prove? (As a kid, I thought George Lucas wrote the novelisation of Star Wars, just considering his name was on the cover.)

Moving onto the typesetting itself, it’s a novella (160 pages), though you could see it as a hodgepodge of four stories which overlap. Each section highlights a variegated cat and a variegated owner, though notation turn up in each other’s stories and unite in an epilogue. The first section expands on Shinkai’s film, with a cat and her young woman owner. The other cats are with a truculent sexuality art student; a girl who’s a guilt-wracked shut-in (“hikikomori”); and an elderly woman whose life was consumed by caring for unsound in-laws. Each story starts with a page-size illustration, not manga-style; they’re by the British versifier Rohan Eason.

Shinkai’s mucosa was narrated by the cat, but each of the book’s stories switch between human and feline perspectives. The cats understand the humans but not vice versa; the same rule as a vintage unprepossessing story, Britain’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which was illustrated in a Japanese edition by Osamu Tezuka. Consequently, the typesetting alternates between human drama and talking-animal fare; the human stories include sombre subjects. One story has an attempted stage rape. The elderly woman story skips over the most graphic details of how she cared for dementia patients, but conveys something of the strain of the job. Both stories go vastitude anything in Shinkai’s anime, and nearly all anime that take reality seriously.

The book’s later pages moreover have an interesting first-person worth of a young man stuck in Japan’s visitor system, subject to horrible hazing by his superiors. He and other youngsters in an IT visitor are told to dig a hole while the bosses yell at them. He ends up with a mental breakdown. It’s the kind of situation that anime should tackle more; maybe Shinaki will endangerment it in a future film. The subject is once hinted at in several Shinkai anime, in scenes of lost, miserable notation leading frustrated lives in Tokyo (Place Promised, 5 Centimetres, Garden of Words).

As noted, the book’s first section is an expansion of Shinkai’s original short, with a male cat who adores his woman owner and sees her as his girlfriend. The cat’s tabbed Chobi in the book; in the Liden remake, the equivalent cat is a much older moggie tabbed Daru, though the woman’s tabbed Miyu in both. The typesetting highlights Miyu’s boyfriend worries. She seldom sees her always-working partner, who hasn’t moved in yet, and she wonders how he sees her, surpassing things deteriorate. Meanwhile, the cat narrates his side of the story in the throes of romantic bliss. “I liked to watch her do the laundry. The gown still smelled of them, and I snuggled my whole soul into them ecstatically.”

The humorous irony is obvious, but it’s increasingly than irony. Miyu’s relationship with Chobi is presented as a far purer, healthier thing than the one she has with her boyfriend. The boyfriend isn’t involved with the attempted stage rape, but things still end most hurtfully, which is never a risk for she and her cat. Chobi comments, “I couldn’t do anything well-nigh her problems. I just lived my days at her side” – something that was well-spoken in the original Shinkai film.

Moreover, there’s a plain illustration between Miyu’s relationship with Chobi and that between the woman teacher Yukari and the teen schoolboy Takao in Garden of Words. Again the Garden relationship is presented as one of worship (from Takao’s side) and unhealthfulness (from Yukari’s). Takao’s line well-nigh Yukari, “To me, she represents nothing less than the very secrets of the world,” is something Chobi could have equally said of Miyu in She and Her Cat. Indeed, the story of Miyu and Chobi is tabbed “Sea of Words” in the books, though I don’t know if that’s as tropical to Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) in Japanese as it is in English.

Of course, you could oppose there’s a crucial difference with Garden of Words. That’s the story of two humans, and Takao’s adoration, however gentlemanly, still amounts to sublimated desire for a trappy woman. The desire can seemingly never be consummated; perhaps Garden’s post-credits epilogue hints otherwise, but the mucosa leaves it wisely oblique. (As anyone at 2022’s Scotland Loves Anime knows, one of the films in competition was well-received until it leaned into age-gap romance.) But the analogy’s still there; a woman’s weightier friend is a cat, or else a well-behaved schoolboy who respects the boundaries and distances that obsess Shinkai.

For all its sultana elements, much of She and Her Cat reads like a typesetting for younger readers. The unprepossessing scenes reminded me of Britain’s Colin Dann (The Animals of Farthing Wood, though he wrote cat books, too). Like them, the typesetting acknowledges the cruelty and daily death in the unprepossessing kingdom, but with a naïvely hostage tone. The mating of two felines is laughably described as “tying the knot.” Less awkwardly, there’s a healthful old dog weft who relates cosmic fables well-nigh the origin of life and conflict. He’s like a speaker from Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Railroad – perhaps deliberately, as Miyazawa is namechecked in passing.

The typesetting is pleasant but slight in itself. The mixing of talking animals and human life is interesting, but there’s nothing truly new or surprising, certainly none of the shocks and provocations of Shinkai’s recent films. But She and Her Cat is still fascinating for how it reflects on the director’s work, irrespective of whether he wrote it or not. Plane at the book’s climax, two cats soupcon up a snowy hill, drawing a hapless man and woman together for a magic meet-cute. How Shinkai is that?

Andrew Osmond is the tragedian of 100 Turned-on Feature Films. She and Her Cat is published by Penguin Books.