Film Review: “Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~” (猫侍)

As a cat lover maybe I am preternaturally disposed to liking this film, but so what? Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s “Neko Samurai” (猫侍, 2014) is a pure delight to watch. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that hard-luck samurais and cute cats just don’t go together. Well, my friend, you are sorely mistaken.

Being a comedy, the plot is quite threadbare and episodic, but Yamaguchi balances the absurdity with genuine moments of drama. Playing the down-on-his-luck samurai Kyutaro, Kazuki Kitamura does most of his acting through the furrowing of his brow and, borrowing a trope from film noir anti-heroes, a voiceover that not only explicates Kyutaro’s own thoughts but also comments on the action that we are watching on screen.

The main action of the film kicks off when Kyutaro is tasked with killing the beloved cat of a rival yakuza clan.  However, as we all know in films, be they modern pictures or jidai-geki: the audience can forgive a murderer, but they will never side with a character that hurts or kills a cute animal. And so, Kyutaro and his new maneki-neko friend soon end up being roommates. Things aren’t all happy moe fun though.  Rival yakuza gangs, a fickle bodyguard who would rather just lounge around rather than guard, and a pesky wannabe samurai all threaten to undo the pair. Yet, of course, if you’re the squeamish type who can’t possibly watch anything which would endanger the life of a cute cuddly animal then fear not, because while the human players may fight and attack one another, the cats and dogs just watch their two-legged masters mince and prance about like proud peacocks.

In between all the fighting and LOL catting, we discover through flashback that Kyutaro, our supposedly fearless samurai, does have one phobia. He can’t kill anyone, a condition that pretty much makes him useless as a samurai. It would have been nice if Yamaguchi and his screenwriter Yuji Nagamori elaborated even a little as to the reason for Kyutaro’s predicament since it seems unlikely that Kyutaro could have risen to such a high rank before being fired if he had not ever killed anyone at all.

All in all, “Neko Samurai” is a breath of fresh of air for viewers who are tired of overly serious dramas and hit-you-over-the-head action pictures. It is silly at times and trades on cuteness. In fact, I will admit that a large chuck of my love for this film are the feline characters on screen, but that shouldn’t detract viewers who might be biased against “light fare” – especially when that fare has so much heart on screen.