Slamdance 2023: Mad Cats

Directed by: Reiki Tsuno
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Anna Harrison


“Mad Cats” can’t quite decide what it wants to be. Is it a sleek and stylized horror flick, as its opening seems to suggest? We begin with a group of silent, well-dressed women summarily executing a man locked in a holding cell amidst a swell of dramatic music, and then are greeted with an opening credit sequence that could have been pulled from HBO. But is the movie actually a comedy? Next thing we know, we are introduced to Taka (Sho Mineo), whose brother Mune (So Yamanaka) has gone missing; Taka has set out to find him, but seems to bumble his way through on sheer luck. Or is “Mad Cats” an action adventure? Taka soon meets Ayane (Ayane), a mysterious young girl whose super fighting skills save him and a homeless man named Takezo (Yuya Matsuura) from the group of women at the beginning, whose physical prowess should not be underestimated.

Sometimes, this smorgasbord of genres works in the favor of “Mad Cats.” Director Reiki Tsuno has set out to make a fun romp, not anything self-serious, and the bouncing back and forth between tones keeps things light and fun; however, the opening minutes, including the dramatic credit sequences, set up an entirely different movie—one that I would have liked to see more of. But then again, it’s hard to make a serious, capital-F Film when your plot involves ancient Egyptian catnip that turns cats into human women. Yes, those executioners at the beginning were once cats. 

If you can buy into that, then the rest of the film should go over decently well, yet it’s hard to buy into the sillier aspects after the opening sets up an arthouse horror movie that never manifests. It’s clear that Tsuno also has animal rights on his mind, as the cat people seem to be going after dodgy pet store owners (though I remain unsure as to why Mune was captured—he was the archaeologist who discovered the super secret catnip, but wouldn’t the cats then like him for that? Why do they want to kill him?) and one of the “cats” is stuck in a wheelchair, implying animal abuse, but this throughline seems to fall by the wayside as we are treated to some (admittedly cool) battle choreography.

Juggling different genres does not necessarily mean a movie will be stretched too thin, but it is particularly frustrating with “Mad Cats” as you get the sense that, had Tsuno committed to any one of his genres (horror, comedy, action, PETA ad), he could have excelled; he uses some clever camerawork and a strong score to great effect, but ultimately the back-and-forth leaves you feeling both wanting more and overstuffed. Not quite purrfect, but at least it’s got heart and signs of promise for Tsuno.

“Mad Cats” Trailer

“Mad Cats” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Slamdance Film Festival.

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