[Slamdance Review] MAD CATS
MAD CATS l Slamdance Film Festival

MAD CATS is silly absurdist fun with a heart of gold. Working within budget restraints, writer/director Reiki Tsuno crafts a tale that twists a story that could have gone really dark if left up to a different creator. While the audience is taken through this martial arts adventure, Tsuno doesn’t neglect the underlying story of cats striking out against an abusive industry. MAD CATS earns its title. These “cats” are mad, and they aren’t afraid to revel in that onscreen.

MAD CATS follows Taka (Sho Mineo), a man who is going through the motions since his brother Mune (So Yamanaka) disappeared. With little to motivate him, he languishes in his sadness. However, one day, Taka receives a tape with the voice of a young woman telling him how he can find his brother. This is the first time since he’s heard any news about his brother.

Abandoning his trailer and fueled by motivation, he makes the long journey to the mysterious home he’s been directed to. In the instructions, he must find a wooden box, which is revealed to possess prime time magical catnip. When I say magical, I mean magical. It has the power to transform cats into possessed women with an innate ability to track down their enemies.

After finding the catnip, Taka finds his brother in a cage. It’s unclear whether or not they are keeping him there in the longterm or short term, as others have been captured and executed before the poor man’s eyes. Their reunion is short-lived as Mune tells his brother to run. It’s not long before Taka is pursued by the cats, with each deadly encounter almost reminding of boss battles in a videogame.

Taka is not alone in this fight, however. He runs into homeless man Takezo (Yuya Matsuura), who hilariously reminds the people around him and the audience that he has no skin in this fight. Joined together, they accidentally run into a mysterious young woman, Ayane (Ayane), who has her own connection to the cats. With her motivations unclear, the two men have to trust her and their own luck to get out of these predicaments unscathed.

MAD CATS strut

Courtesy Slamdance

The performance of MAD CATS helps emphasis the inherent craziness of Tsuno’s vision. Keeping things remarkably light are the physical comedy performances delivered by both Sho Mineo and Yuya Matsuura. Their bumbling antics provide a strong contract with the silent and serious Ayane. Ayane wonderfully sticks to the stoic performance needed to maintain that aura of mystery around her. When coupled with the MAD CATS chasing after them, she comes across as a figure of strength.

Speaking of MAD CATS, all the actors portraying the human cat monsters are a little too good. They nail the manic frantic energy that sometimes possesses our fellow feline friends. Dangerous with a smile on their face, the actors are reveling in the direction given by Tsuno. They maintain their respective cat mannerisms, even while executing their fight scenes. This continuity helps sell the audience on the world Tsuno is trying to convey here. A good job by all.

With that said, there is a little bit of a pacing issue. As I mentioned before, the battles in how they are structure remind of boss scenes in video games. The stop, fight, repeat sequences after some time read as formulaic, which has the impact of dragging down the forward motion pacing that this adventure tale needs to fully thrive. The other thing is that, whether due to budget constraints or not, the fight scenes do tend to run short. If given a bigger budget, I’d be curious to see where Tsuno can take future fight scenes because, based on framing and execution alone, he’s got a good handle on coordinating.

In general, MAD CATS gives us a glimpse inside the wild creative mind of writer/director Reiki Tsuno. Carrying out his vision to make a lighter, more whimsical Japanese film, I dare say that he has succeeded. Over-the-top, silly, and full of moments that will have you scratching your head, MAD CATS is a fun time. Just remember, be nice to the felines you run across. You’ll never know when they’ll find some magical catnip and go on a rampage.

Reiki Tsuno’s MAD CATS had its world premiere at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.

Sarah Musnicky
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