Ever since Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement after 2013’s “The Wind Rises,” something the world famous director later reneged on, fans of anime films the world over have been looking for his successor. Makoto Shinkai, with his wildly successful movies “Your Name” and “Weathering with You,” tops many lists as the best director of anime films currently working. But in today’s streaming environment, exacerbated by the global pandemic, Netflix’s original programming is starting to make inroads into the genre. “A Whisker Away” released last month to Netflix. Though it doesn’t quite reach Studio Ghibli levels of quality, it’s a beautifully animated and surprisingly layered coming-of-age story about young teenagers learning to communicate their emotional needs to each other while dealing with familial trauma; oh, and also it has shapeshifting cats.
“A Whisker Away” follows the tale of middle schooler Miyo Sasaki, an eccentric girl who obsessively makes romantic advances on her crush, fellow student Kento Hinode, who always gives her the cold shoulder. The audience later learns that Miyo bought a magical mask from a shady salesman that allows her to transform into a cat so that Hinode will spend time with her (Hinode, we also learn, is a cat person). Over the course of the film, the audience learns more and more about each of their families, their histories, and their hidden suffering as the two of them learn to be friends and look after each other.
The central metaphor of “A Whisker Away,” that it’s easy to lose your identity while pretending to be someone else to earn another person’s love, is a powerful message, and it’s beautifully animated by the artists at Studio Colorido in Tokyo. If you’ve been craving an explosively imaginative, colorful anime movie while waiting for Hayao Miyazaki to finish his last (for real this time) film, go find “A Whisker Away” over on Netflix; it just might fulfill that need!