An enduring love story

In Only The Cat Knows, an elderly couple's tenuous ties are buoyed by feline friend

Chieko Baisho and Tatsuya Fuji in Only The Cat Knows. (Photo courtesy of Mongkol Cinema)

A relationship is never complete without a cat.

Housewife Yukiko (Chieko Baisho) finds solace in her pet cat Chibi and sappy Korean TV series in a house that she shares with her emotionally distant husband Masaru (Tatsuya Fuji). While seemingly leading a peaceful life together, Masaru doesn't pay much attention to his doting wife, leading Yukiko to tell their adult daughter of her contemplation to divorce the old man despite their decades-long marriage. Later on, Chibi the black cat disappears from the house.

Yukiko, of course, is frantic in the search for her feline companion. But Masaru is cold and uncaring, simply dismissing the old cat went away to die in private. This puts a further strain on their relationship.

Only The Cat Knows is a low-key romantic drama about a senior couple that manages to be quite heartwarming and cute. A little predictable, yes. It is simple in its storytelling with quite a straightforward message.

Within that simple story, what holds and drives the movie forward is the elderly Yukiko and Masaru. It's not often that we get to see a love story that centres around a senior couple. In a way, Only The Cat Knows may just be a fitting love story for an ageing society where a long-time couple gets to look back at their beginning and their lives together.

In that reflection, it becomes apparent that the real challenge of love is not simply falling and ending up in one another's arms, but rather the mundane maintenance that keeps a couple together. The film makes it clear that it requires a two-way effort. And, most importantly, it is never too late -- and no one is ever too old -- to give love and relationships another try.

The movie also reminded me a little of Händl Klaus' Tomcat, where the couple's cat became both the symbol and the conflict that tested their relationship. But of course this Japanese film is way more optimistic and lighthearted than the Austrian gay drama.

And the Japanese sure love their kitties in films. In recent years, we've seen the likes of Samurai Cat, If Cats Disappeared From The World, and last year's The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Cats have gone on the road and got caught in the middle of a warrior's feud. And now Only The Cat Knows brings its soft paws to join the ranks of cinematic cats.

It is quite an interesting trend. Cinema around the has have featured cats and dogs in their stories for ages. And Japanese cinema also had its fair share of dog films (see the story of Hachiko and try not to cry too much). But, as mentioned, these past few years have focused on the feline population. In the West, filmmakers seem to prefer the tales of dogs, with many stories circulating on the relationship between humans and the four-legged pals that aim to make audiences shed a bucket of tears.

Pets have been used as both characters of their own and as a representation of something beyond. Cats may offer an extra emotional element of their nature to the story in ways that the happy-go-lucky man's best friend simply can't compare.

Only The Cat Knows

Starring Chieko Baisho, Tatsuya Fuji
Directed by Shotaro Kobayashi
In Japanese with Thai and English subtitles