A story can have amazing artwork, animation, story and all that jazz but what it fundamentally needs is heart. Characters drive the story. If the characters are uninteresting or unlikable, the viewers aren’t going to be interested in any of their actions. and they are certainly not going to be rooting for what the characters are aiming to do, their desires and their aspirations. This is one of the primary criticism that comes up when talking about A Whisker Away: Miyo is annoying and Kento is uninteresting.
This is one complaint I will not understand about A Whisker Away. The movie, first and foremost, is targeted towards children. It does exceptionally well at keeping the characters simple and direct. Miyo is the girl with a troubled past and seeks to be happy with the boy she loves. Kento is a boy who has the burden of supporting the family and has trouble expressing himself. Yoriko is the sensitive and caring friend of Miyo. Characters don’t need to be overly complicated for them to be third dimensional. They simply need to make choices that fit the context of their personality. This is what makes characters believable. If the character was perfect already, there wouldn’t be much to talk about.
Miyo on the surface is a happy go lucky girl who likes a boy in her class. However, as we will come to understand, her home life isn’t all that pleasant. She was bullied at a young age because of her parent’s divorce. She doesn’t understand why things are the way they are but suffers for it. She is too young to. And.. she has found an easy way to run from all her problems. She can turn into a cat and go to the place she loves the most. Much like drugs are an escape from reality, so is the mask. She becomes reliant to the mask and it makes sense. It is the only thing that gives her happiness. When she is faced with a dilemma at the lowest point of her life, after being rejected by her crush and having a fall out with her family, the cunning cat mask seller appears and convinces her to give up her human mask and become a cat permanently. However, the mask, is not without any consequences.
The mask seller is the personification of our dark thoughts that implants fear and doubt into our heads. He is cunning and while he makes some very minor appearances, he appears at some of Miyo’s lowest points in her life. This is very much intended to be metaphorical. We all have dark thoughts when we hit our lowest points. We doubt ourselves when we feel insecure and rejected. Ultimately, he wants us to make mistakes. But when we are isolated for a long period of time, and feel detached from our friends and family, and the world, the mask seller starts to make sense. Difficult choices start to become easy to make and just like Miyo, we make irreversible mistakes.
The ramifications of her actions catch up to her. She will soon turn into a real cat with a shortened lifespan. She will also be unable to understand humans. She witnesses her friends and family genuinely scared for her life. Miyo realises that there are no simple solution to our problems. The only way to make our problems go away is to solve it, no matter how difficult. This point of the story is superb. It feels real. From the start we are shown Miyo’s behaviour. She keeps unpleasant feeling bottled up inside her and explodes. Her outbursts are how she got the mask in the first place. However after realising that one cannot simply run from their problems, she decides to tackle them directly. And this is her growing up.
The movie does many things right. And in this sense, the use of lighting & colour is one that is abundantly clear. It can be argued as one of the best in the medium. At emotionally difficult moments, darker shades of blue are used to invoke feelings of sadness and isolation. When Miyo visits places she loves, the lighting is warm and energetic. During more sinister moments, it’s dark and mysterious. Scenes are never clustered and instead kept relatively clear and focused. The animation is fun and creative. One that stands out most is the cat mask seller. His movements are erratic, unpredictable and, fun. He is mythical, so his eyes are yellow and pierce into your soul. He is mysterious, so he comes out of weird places like pots, then vanishes into thin air. He is sinister and powerful, so he towers over others.