Female rivalry goes for a pleasing spin on the Japanese slacker cycle in “The Cat Leaves Home,” a slow-burning exploration of competitiveness between two young women. With opening titles superimposed on hessian in the tradition of Yasujiro Ozu, Nami Iguchi’s debut feature differs from the late Japanese master’s in content and intent but distantly echoes his ability to draw in auds with seemingly innocuous goings-on. Pic aroused a positive purr at Pusan fest and is likely to receive positive pats at other Asia-friendly fests.
Initially only barely more interesting than the mass of somnambulistic slacker flicks churned out by Japanese indies, film gradually develops into an engaging emotional drama that easily cuts across cultural boundaries and provides food for thought about the nature of friendship.
Excessively cheerful Suzu (Yoko Fujita) splits from her childish b.f., Furuta (Hidetoshi Nishijima), and lands on the doorstep of her friend, Abe (Eiko Koike). Abe has asked her and Suzu’s mutual friend, Yoko (Kanako Enomoto), to housesit while she studies overseas.
Yoko and Suzu have a veiled animosity that springs from their long history of vying for the same males, including the recently dumped Furuta, and history is set to repeat itself when Suzu catches sight of Yoko’s love de jour — which allows slow yarn to heat up and patient viewers to be modestly rewarded.
Perfs are on the money, and while Enomoto is sublime catnip as the quiet and put-upon Yoko, it is Fujita’s intentionally grating portrayal of Suzu which sticks in the mind. Without showing her hand, Fujita carefully reveals the poisonous nature of Suzu’s ostensibly benevolent personality, subtly delineated by the film’s narrative arc.
Iguchi shows an eye for clear and uncluttered visuals, belying her background as a sound assistant on pics by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Other tech credits are more professional than most Japanese pics of this ilk. Original title means “Dog, Cat,” which more aptly defines the combative nature of the central relationship than the official English title.