Saturday, June 25, 2016

NYAFF ’16: If Cats Disappeared from the World

Would tennis rackets disappear too? Probably yes. According to the rules established by the Devil, when things mysteriously disappear from the world, all the memories and consequences of their existence also vanish. However, the protagonist will have more profoundly personal associations with cats to worry about than mere sporting goods in Akira Nagai’s beautifully tragic If Cats Disappeared from the World (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

When a thirty-year-old postman is diagnosed with a hopelessly advanced brain tumor, he is rather surprised to find his Mephistophelean doppelganger waiting for him at home. Purporting to me the Devil, his double offers him a deal. Every item he completely sacrifices from the world will extend his life one day. The emphasis should definitely be on completely. The first supposedly pedestrian item to vanish will be phones. Yet, the Postman belatedly realizes it was phone calls that brought him together with the great lost love of his life.

While he reconnects with ex for a final day, the Postman is flooded with memories of their relationship—and then they disappear from each other’s lives. The next to go will be movies, which will also usher his film snob best friend from his life. Clocks will follow, affecting his relationship to his slightly estranged watchmaker father, but cats will really hurt, because of his current feline’s heartrending backstory.

If you want to hear big burly men choking back sobs, ICDFTW is the film for you. Think of it as a cross between Yojira Taika’s Oscar-winning Departures and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore, but this film really goes for the heartstrings early and often. There is no question Nagai is nakedly manipulative, but viewers will not notice while they are under his spell.

As the Postman, Takeru Satoh revisits the fantastical romantic terrain of Kurosawa’s REAL, but this time he takes his performance several levels deeper. He is also suitably sinister as the infernal doppelganger. He does a lot of brooding and staring out to sea, but his scenes with Aoi Miyazaki as his true love are just devastating. Their achingly sensitive chemistry is a small wonder to behold. Yet, the audience really needs to gird themselves for when Mieko Harada (the fierce Lady Kaede in the other Kurosawa’s Ran) really lowers the boom as the Postman’s mother.

At first, Takeshi Kobayashi’s sentimental score sounds too on the nose, but then it starts to get inside your head. Frankly, that is sort of true for the entire film. Likewise, a few of Nagai’s flashbacks (especially including an extended sequence in Buenos Aires) are initially confusing, but they always payoff in the end. Recommended for those who enjoy tearjerkers that work, If Cats Disappeared from the World screens again this Monday (9/27) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.