SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! From Japan comes the deadliest mash-up in movie history…KITTIES and KILLERS as an ancient curse is awakened in indie filmmaker Reiki Tsuno’s feature action flick, Mad Cats …fear the purr!

Mad Cats stars Sho Mineo as sad and pathetic Taka, who lives in a trailer ever since his archeologist brother, Mune (So Yamanaka), went missing. One day, Taka receives a cassette tape with a voice giving him clues to unlock the whereabouts of his brother Taka. With some harsh motivation from his landlord for being worthless, Taka is led to a mysterious house and told to find a wooden box containing some ancient catnip. When Taka finds the box, it contains the ancient Catnip of Bastet, which gives special powers to the cats, who imbibe the sweet catnip. It’s not exactly explained, but it essentially turns felines into cat monsters, taking on human form.

In finding the catnip, Taka finds his brother in a cage awaiting execution by the Boss cat (Hikari Aiko). When The Executioner (Chiyuki Kanazawa) arrives, Taka goes on the run and is safe by a homeless man, Takezo (Yuya Matsuura). As the relentless horde of cat monsters hunt for Taka and Takezo, they are aided by a mysterious young girl, Ayane, played by Ayane. The three must ultimately confront the Boss cat to rescue Takezo safely.

Normally I don’t read the press note before seeing a movie…but I did. Writer/director Reiki Tsuno talks about how Japanese films, especially horror, tend to be “sad, serious, and depressing.” Instead, with Mad Cats, he wanted to “make something exciting and flashy.” Which he does. Mad Cats is essentially an action-adventure thrill ride…if you were on a county fair thrill ride.

“…it contains the ancient Catnip of Bastet, which gives special powers to the cats…”

Mad Cats employs the storytelling devices of contrast while subverting expectations. Our heroes, Taka and Takezo, are both inept and ineffective. They are lucky to be alive and to survive, they must be lucky. On the other hand, there is Ayane, who is highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, swordsmanship (swordspersonship), and firearms. Of course, this contrast leads to the comedic training montage, which (spoiler alert) leaves Taka and Takezo still inept and ineffective.

So cats and killer. This clowder of cats is essentially a crew of anthropomorphized cats in human form. Their feline facials and movements are creepy as hell, as budget restrictions thwart any attempt at cat costumes or make-up (a far cry from Tom Hooper’s creepy-looking CG Cats). The story also centers on legends and lore surrounding cats…catnip, stealthy movement, and their nine lives.

As the film plays out, this cat theme now serves as an overlay over a typical action story structure. With our three heroes on the run, one pair of cat monsters is sent after the other. The heroes much dispatch each pair who grow exceedingly more skilled and difficult to kill. Yes, we have a video game on our hands as our heroes are forced to become increasingly inventive to stand victorious.

This brings us to action. It’s good, particularly for a low-budget indie. Most of the action is hand-to-hand combat with ample gunplay, and Ayane is an exceptional action hero. Again, for a low-budget film, the action is shot brilliantly, but the film’s lack of money comes with its drawbacks. Quite frankly, the action sequences are small in scale and end sooner than expected (someone, please get Reiki Tsuno some money to realize his vision fully). I was definitely left wanting more than I got in the final product, which is on par for low-budget films).

Mad Cats is a fun movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously and has fun with the cat theme while never getting to 60s Batman level of camp. What’s in store for you is some amazing fight sequences dominated by women and their cat-like reflexes. It’s the purrfect movie to curl up to for a quiet evening or while engaged in some self-cleaning practices.

Mad Cats screened at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.

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