Third Window sees in 2024 with Mad Cats, the first feature film from director Reiki Tsuno. Not a film I knew much about except having seen some images of leather clad ladies carrying guns and the tone suggested one that was not likely to be too deep or heavy; just the thing for a Friday afternoon "betwixtmas" while getting over a cold.
Slacker Taka (Sho Mineo) receives both a harangue from his landlady to pay the rent and a parcel. The parcel contains a tape: a woman tells him where he can find his missing archaeologist brother (So Yamanaka), and to steal a small box. Taka goes to find his brother, only to find a lot of cat women very happy to kill him, and one: Ayane (Ayane), who intervenes to fight for him and his brother.
Mad Cats is one of those films that will likely divide people. It has a certain type of humour, action and style, and if all these come together into the form you like then it’ll likely be an absolute blast for you. Aspects of the film I liked a lot, some points less so, and one potential issue for many viewers may be the nominal protagonist, Taka. If you want to have a slacker lead role then you need a character as iconic as The Dude carried by an actor that can really handle such a role such as Jeff Bridges; or be like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, where the sidekick and hero are reversed and Russell as was then in his pomp – moreover there is always a sly knowingness as to what that film is doing. Sho Mineo is neither of these actors, and while some may like his gurning antics, personally running at people while waving your arms is not my idea of a performance. But that’s him at his worst, because thankfully the director tries to avoid Taka needing to do much most of the time. No doubt due to the character being paper thin. Admittedly, this is not a film about three-dimensional characters, but one where style and action predominate. However, action must have a point and here there is a plot that makes sense, even if it forgets Hitchcock’s maxim that a McGuffin is just that, explain the least and then get on with things: Mad Cats explains a bit too much, but that’s a minor failing to be honest.
Taka and the McGuffin aside, Mad Cats is at its best when it is trying to go all out wild – even if arguably the film is never quite zany enough or as wild as it wants to be. The introduction of Ayane, - who gets just about every good action sequence - illustrates where the humour often works best. Taka and a homeless guy named Takezo (Yuya Matsuura) accidentally get caught up in cat women violent antics. Eating breakfast as we can see the smiling axe-wielding cat lady sidle about outside... it's a moment where Taka as slacker works because he’s so dumb he cannot even see the axe about to come crashing through the window. There’s also a relatively nice running gag with the sword wielding cat lady that is never explained and the lack of explanation is in the film’s favour.
If anyone is in doubt as to artifice being the order of the day, then the car scenes shout this at us. The back projection has intentional scratches in it, and sometimes the car goes full 360 degrees while the back projection is still running; or else they are suddenly over the city. Why? I have no idea. Does it work? Yes. And again, the random artificiality of it and lack of explanation works as part of the film's charm. The world building too is nicely done. Everyone drinks Purr Beer; the film has its own brand cat food everywhere and even the radio station we hear is called KITY. Perhaps my favourite moment in the film is again artifice, the TV advert for a pet shop that is full on absurdist. These details help to offset some of the less well-developed aspects.
When the action hits, often it uses visual gags in parallel, some obvious but well done and no less effective for their being expected. Yet there is also an odd juxtaposition to how the action is handled, as whenever Taka and Takezo are involved, the cat women are more incompetent (the old spraying bullets somehow never managing to hit your protagonist despite being point blank problem) then when it is cat women vs Ayane (herself a stunt women) is when it really amps up with a real sense of crunching choreography, unsurprisingly this is really where the action is most effective. True, some of the more humour-driven action works, one sequence especially outside the cat women’s lair, where Taka and Takezo manage to survive through blind luck rather than skill is well constructed and shot.
Mad Cats often marries aspects of slapstick and hints of absurdism with more straightforward action and visual gags, though "action comedy" is likely the tag most will give it. Often the humour is not entirely my style, I don’t like slapstick and here we have a slapstick protagonist who has little character growth, and what there is is pretty token (Takezo does though). But the absurdist pieces and the way the film's own branding is pulled out into the film world is definitely more my thing and where I most enjoyed the film. I felt, too, that it was well shot and lit, and often looks very stylish. On one level, put people in leather and many people will argue it will look stylish, thinking back to The Matrix, but it’s beyond that, as Mad Cats has it's own look and feel that is pretty unified throughout; it helps that the soundtrack really suits the film, and definitely gives it some momentum and energy when needed.
I’ll return to where I started; Mad Cats is a really tough film to review because there are significant aspects that are not to my taste and yet it’s 90-minutes never for a moment dragged. The film swirls by, yet I’d happily have cut parts out (mainly those including Taka); yet I enjoyed the sometimes bewildering aspects: the sword wielding cat woman who attacks no one; the crunching action sequences with Ayane are really well done even if some of the slapstick scenes I’d have happily excised (but again that’s due to my taste not necessarily yours). I appreciate this is clearly a film made on a small budget with limited means and that needs some recognition as it does a lot with not very much. Again, I think those who enjoy madcap action will enjoy it enormously, for the rest of us we’re likely to pick up on those elements that we personally enjoy. Mad Cats is certainly never dull, even if it's a flawed exercise.
For my money there’s some good ideas in here and perhaps even a screamingly good film trying to get out, but is a bit too uneven in execution and ideas to truly become great. Nevertheless, I’d rather Mad Cats than another bloody Marvel movie; director Reiki Tsuno tries to do a lot with a little, manages some truly stylish moments, even if the film is a bit scattershot, but I doubt you'll be bored, as if there is one thing the film never lacks it is a sense of fun. Mad Cats is out to entertain and is unabashed in its intentions.