Slamdance Film Review: Mad Cats
Director: Reiki Tsuno
As an avid cat lover and occasional fun haver, I wasn’t going to miss an action-adventure comedy about a young drunk fighting to save his brother from a clowder of vengeful cats.
Tsuno’s script for Mad Cats wastes no time in getting to the action. After a brief prologue in which an imprisoned man is beheaded by a group of cats (played by women in leather jackets), we are introduced to our main protagonist, Taka (Sho Mineo). Taka is still grieving the sudden disappearance of his brother Mune (Sô Yamanaka), an archaeologist who was last seen returning from an adventure in Egypt, when he receives an anonymous cassette tape in the mail. A woman’s voice on the tape tells him he must rescue his brother from a location from their past, and Taka wastes no time rushing out the door and into adventure.
Mineo’s performance tips into a cartoonish level of cowardice and clumsiness, keying the audience into the film’s tone. This breezy, low-stakes tone is further cemented when Taka arrives at the lair of the titular mad cats. Several laughs and a brief, tense reunion between brothers later and Taka has barely escaped with his life. He’s also escaped with a mysterious wooden box his brother instructed him to steal as opposed to sticking around to complete the rescue.
From here, Taka meets new allies in a bum named Takezo (Yûya Matsuura) and a rogue cat named Ayane who seems vaguely familiar (Ayane is also the name of the actress). As various mad cats chase after the wooden box, each comes with their own weapon and fighting style that makes each fight fresh and fun to watch.
The true star of the action is Tsuno’s direction. From POV camera spins following the motion of decapitated heads falling to the ground to excellent location shooting to a sense of kinetic fun through every action sequence, Tsuno makes Mad Cats feel well beyond its budget. I cannot stress enough how much fun you have watching this thing fly by, but is there such a thing as too much fun? With the characters of Taka and Takezo, Mad Cats asks,“What if some loud and cowardly cartoon characters came to life?” The answer, unfortunately, is that it might get on your nerves by the end. For the first half of the film, I was mostly onboard with Taka’s screaming and crying, but as it repeated throughout every single high-stakes action sequence, it started to drag.
I think that the line between action and comedy can be hard to walk if you want the action to work dramatically. Mad Cats’ tone is nearly consistent save for a few small moments which didn’t work. The largest of these small moments is when Ayane “dies.” By this time, Taka has realized that Ayane is the small, black kitten his brother adopted years prior, the same black kitten that he neglected and lost after his brother’s disappearance. Ayane’s death plays seriously (despite not lasting into the final climax). This death motivates Taka and Takezo going into their final battle, giving them a classic suit-up montage, only for them to be right back to their bumbling selves once they arrive at the climax of the film. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t funny, but whether because it was the same joke again or because it came right after a sincere attempt at drama, it just didn’t land for me.
Aside from that one moment ringing hollow and an overplayed gag, Mad Cats is a joy to behold. When something’s this much of a blast, looks this good and has this much quality stunt work at an independent level, how could it not be? A fun concept with fantastic direction and consistent, laugh-out-loud jokes, Mad Cats’ few flaws aren’t enough to hold it down for long. Keep an eye on Reiki Tsuno who’s sure to direct more brilliant projects in the future, and definitely keep an eye out for Mad Cats viewing opportunities. –Max Bennion
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