SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! From Japan comes the deadliest mash-up in movie history: kitties and killers as an ancient curse is awakened in indie filmmaker Reiki Tsuno’s feature action flick, Mad Cats. Fear the purr!
Mad Cats stars Sho Mineo as the sad and pathetic Taka, who has lived in a trailer ever since his archeologist brother, Mune (So Yamanaka), went missing. One day, Taka receives a cassette tape with a voice giving him clues to unlock the whereabouts of his brother. With some harsh motivation from his landlord for being worthless, Taka is led to a mysterious house and told to find a wooden box containing some ancient catnip. When Taka finds the box, it contains the ancient Catnip of Bastet, which gives special powers to the cats who imbibe the sweet catnip. It’s not explained, but it turns felines into cat monsters, taking on human form.
In finding the catnip, Taka finds his brother in a cage awaiting execution by the Boss cat (Hikari Aiko). When The Executioner (Chiyuki Kanazawa) arrives, Taka goes on the run and is saved by homeless man Takezo (Yuya Matsuura). As the relentless horde of cat monsters hunt for Taka and Takezo, they’re aided by a mysterious young girl, Ayane (Ayane). The three must ultimately confront the Boss cat to rescue Mune.
Normally I don’t read the press notes before seeing a motion picture, but for writer/director Tsuno’s action film, I did. He talks about how Japanese movies, especially horror, tend to be “sad, serious, and depressing.” Instead, with Mad Cats, he wanted to “make something exciting and flashy.” Which he does. This is essentially an action-adventure thrill ride.
“…the ancient Catnip of Bastet, which gives special powers to the cats who imbibe…”
The filmmaker employs the storytelling devices of contrast while subverting expectations. Our heroes, Taka and Takezo, are both inept and ineffective. They are lucky to be alive and surviving. But, Ayane is highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship (swordspersonship), and firearms. Of course, this contrast leads to the comedic training montage, which (spoiler alert) leaves Taka and Takezo still inept and ineffective.
So cats and killers. This clowder of cats is essentially a crew of anthropomorphized cats in human form. Their feline facials and movements are creepy as hell, as budget restrictions thwart any attempt at cat costumes or make-up (though it’s a far cry from Tom Hooper’s creepy-looking CG Cats). This cat theme serves as an overlay over a typical action story structure.
Mad Cats centers on legends and lore surrounding cats, catnip, stealthy movement, and their nine lives. With our three protagonists on the run, one pair of cat monsters is sent after the other. The heroes must dispatch each team who grows exceedingly more skilled and difficult to kill. Yes, we have a video game on our hands as Taka, Takezo, and Ayane are forced to become increasingly inventive to stand victorious against these cat monsters.
This brings us to the action. It’s good, particularly for a low-budget indie. Most of it is hand-to-hand combat though there is ample gunplay. Plus, Ayane makes for an exceptional hero. Again, for a low-budget film, the action is shot brilliantly, but the lack of money comes with drawbacks. Quite frankly, the action is small in scale and ends sooner than expected. Someone, please get Reiki Tsuno some money to realize his vision fully). I was definitely left wanting more than I got in the final product, which is on par for low-budget movies.
Mad Cats is fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously and has fun with the cat theme while never getting to 1960s Batman level of camp. What’s in store for you is some amazing fight sequences dominated by women and their cat-like reflexes. It’s the purrfect film to curl up to for a quiet evening or while engaged in some self-cleaning practices.
Mad Cats screened at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…for a low-budget film, the action is shot brilliantly..."