A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Whisker Away is an anime fantasy in which a free-spirited girl nicknamed Muge (voiced by Mirai Shida) finds a way to transform into a cat in order to get to know her crush, Hinode (Natsuki Hanae), better. Muge's transformation is accomplished by putting on an enchanted/cursed cat mask: It's an obvious symbol for the "masks" Muge and Hinode wear in public as they try to hide inner depression and anxiety. While overhearing two boys saying mean things about Hinode, Muge jumps from a second-story walkway to confront them and falls through a tree, resulting in scratches and injuries. Muge and her stepmother get into a physical altercation that includes slaps and hair-pulling. Two bullies steal the love letter Muge has written for Hinode and read it aloud in class, resulting in deep humiliation for her. Others in class stand up to the bullies by knocking them over with a desk. When Muge's body is taken over by her stepmother's cat, Muge suggests to Hinode that they go back to her house where he can spend the night with her. Some drinking in a "cat bar," where cats drink alcohol and lament their life decisions. A villain cat smokes a pipe.
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What's the story?
In A WHISKER AWAY, Miyo Sasaki, nicknamed "Muge," (voiced by Mirai Shida) is a girl with an intense crush on her classmate Hinode (Natsuki Hanae). While Muge is free-spirited and shows her feelings for Hinode in over-the-top ways, Hinode is more reserved and seems put off by Muge's overexuberance. Angst-ridden over her infatuation with Hinode, Muge meets a mysterious giant cat called "The Mask Seller," who gives her a mask that allows Muge to transform into an adorable fluffy white cat with large blue eyes. As a cat, Muge goes to Hinode's house to learn more about him in order to make herself more appealing to Hinode. Hinode immediately bonds with the cat, and names her "Taro," the same name as his recently deceased pet dog. As "Taro," Muge learns that, in spite of the opposite ways in which they behave at school, the two really aren't so far apart. At school, Muge starts using the knowledge she has learned about Hinode to get closer to him, but after a humiliation at school and troubles at home come to the forefront, Muge begins to seriously consider The Mask Seller's offer to remain as a cat for the rest of her life. As the line between her "cat life" and human life becomes increasingly blurred, Muge must find a way to stay human.
Is it any good?
While the "mask" metaphor is a frequent motif in the poetry of angst-ridden teens contending with issues of identity and first crushes, this movie finds a beautiful originality in the premise. This coming-of-age anime explores the different ways in which adolescents (and adults) might hide (yes, "mask") their true feelings in their public personas, and how these differences, particularly when it comes to deeper attraction, aren't as far apart deep down as they appear. Besides identity, A Whisker Away also explores the infatuations of first-time crushes, the challenges of adjusting to new family situations, acceptance of those who are "different," depression, friendship, and how it's ok not to always be happy and cheerful, especially when one doesn't feel happy and cheerful inside.
What's particularly enjoyable about A Whisker Away is that it manages to steer clear of the typical tendency of anime to overload a movie with far too many themes, side stories, and minor characters. It does this while still keeping all of the style, surrealism, and unusual humor that defines the best anime. For example, there's a scene in which humans trapped as cats hang out in a gritty "cat bar," lamenting their questionable life choices that got them to this point. Scenes like these keep the movie entertaining for adult anime fans as well.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the meaning of the cat mask in A Whisker Away. How is the mask used to highlight the differences between the "public face" people might wear in public and how they might really feel? Like these characters, have you ever felt like you needed to pretend to be happy in public or with family members in order to hide sadness or confusion in your inner/personal life?
The movie addresses first crushes, bullying, and challenging family situations. How are the fantasy elements used to highlight all of these real concerns?
How does this movie compare to other anime movies you've seen?
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