After scrawling out a stack of Nihon Nihilism posts, I’ve begun to feel a little guilty of my one-sided treatment of the Land of the Rising Sun. I love Japan and I love Japanese cinema. The Japanese movie industry is obviously not entirely made up of bleak films, and my interests do not purely reside in this area. With this in mind, I’ve decided that Mondo Exploito needs a second regular article about Japanese films to wash away the bad taste of Nihon Nihilism. These regular posts – under the banner of “Thanks, Japan!” – will essentially cover everything else Japan has to offer. Initially what I had in mind was a focus on supernatural films and general weirdness. But I thought it better to keep it broad and vague. And now I offer you a review of a heartwarming film about a salary-man and a kitten…


Japan, 2008, Mika Ohmori

My pants swiftly filled with poo when I stumbled across Nekonade. Why? Well, for starters, I’m a cat fan. And I mean, a serious cat fan. Ask most of my friends to name three things that I like and they’d probably say “movies” and “cats”, and then struggle to name a third. The second reason my bowels emptied with excitement was the presence of Ren Ōsugi in the cast. Ōsugi will be a familiar face for anyone remotely interested in Japanese film and television. In his long (and ongoing) career, he has worked with names like Takashi Kitano and Takeshi Miike in every genre imaginable – he even made a handful of nasty pinku rape films back in the day! Just check out his IMDB page – the man is busier than his pal Miike. With the combination of kittens and Ōsugi, I was sold before I even read a review.

The catty title screen

The legendary Ren Ōsugi

On paper, the plot of Nekonade is what you’d expect, but its execution is something very different. Ōsugi stars as a dull businessman, Onizuka. He is a managing director at a toy robot manufacturing company. His main job role seems to be firing staff. His job description also includes training new recruits in strict and cruel ways and writing lyrics to the company’s anthem. Onizuka is not exactly malicious, only jaded and cold. Sitting in a park after work, Onizuka watches a young couple gushing over a box of cute abandoned kittens. Onizuka approaches the couple and tells them to leave the kittens alone unless they plan on adopting one. The couple agree and leave with a kitten, but only after Onizuka promises to adopt one himself. Onizuka breaks his promise, leaving the park without taking a kitten. The next night he guiltily returns to the park and is shocked to find a kitten still lurking about. He hides the kitten in a vacant room at a hotel where his trainee staff are staying. Onizuka continues to care for the kitten while keeping it a secret from his family and workmates. He names the kitten “Tiger” after its orange colouring.

Training the new recruits

Onizuka adopts Tiger

There’s also a subplot involving Onizuka’s daughter raising a virtual cat…

I went into this film with Western expectations. From reading the plot line above, most of us gaijins who have grown up on a diet of Hollywood family movies would assume this story is about a cranky Scrooge-type character who learns to love life through a new pet. And I suppose Nekonade is that. Sort of. Nekonade is not about overblown sentimentality, instead it takes a more subtle approach. Onizuka’s focus does progressively move from his job to his cat, but the film does not leave us with a wildly joyous protagonist filled with newly rejuvenated fuel for life. Rather, he finds simple comfort in his new kitten. The title Nekonade – which translates to “cat pat” – is almost misleading. Nekonade is more about the horrors of the Japanese workforce and finding a coping mechanism than Onizuka’s relationship with his cat. And this focus is one of the film’s strongest assets. It is a fascinating (and reasonably disturbing) peek into an alien working environment that is somehow relatable.

The trainees are forced to sing the company’s anthem in public

Onizuka monitors Tiger from his mobile

Nekonade is entertaining, but not exactly exhilarating. Its pacing is appropriately slow and its tone is consistent. However, it’s difficult to work out exactly what its tone is. Nekonade, visually, is quite an ugly picture with its high-level contrast that gives the footage an oddly grimy look. It’s also very claustrophobic. Onizuka’s workplace manages to present itself as genuinely horrifying without resorting to the sort of unrealistic workplace shenanigans you’d see in a Western film. The strangely realistic atmosphere of Nekonade, much like its general execution, is unexpected, especially when you consider its lurid poster shown at the start of this article. There are moments of comedy, but the film never dives too deep into humour. Although there is one moment involving Onizuka purchasing a new cat that is absolutely hysterical.

Onizuka discovers the trouble with purchasing a cat online

Litter box cutaway

Nekonade was not the film I signed up for, and, in a way, I’m glad. Don’t get me wrong. Nekonade is not Ozu. Nor does it pack the same emotional punch that something like Hachi-ko (1987) does. Still, I believe it is successful in its intent – assuming I understood its intent. Nekonade will probably be quickly forgotten by most, but I found myself strangely immersed in its simple story.

Just a man and his neko