Sometimes, a metaphor is simply not enough to convey an artist’s vision. Directors sometimes lean straight into the absurdity of their ideas and literalize concepts that seem too crazy to bring to life. In the case of Mad Cats, director Reiki Tsuno commits fully to his wacky premise. As a result, Mad Cats embraces the zany concept while playing into the melodrama that has long-defined martial arts films. Mixing high art with low art only makes Mad Cats even more fun.
Taka (Sho Mineo) receives a mysterious message when his brother goes missing. However, with clues to his brother’s whereabouts, he goes looking. However, not everything is as they seem, and Taka finds himself running for his life from warrior cats looking to take revenge on bad cat owners. Taka escapes their attacks with the help of Takezo (Yuya Matsuura) and the mysterious Ayane (Ayane). The three make an unusual group, but to save his brother, Ayane begins training Taka and Takezo.
This insane concept should undermine Mad Cats from the get-go. Yet Tsuno finds ways to make his story funny and highly stylized. In fact, he even lands some emotional beats, which feels like a truly impossible feat. Mineo and Matsuura make for a funny duo, but Tsuno’s direction keeps the story moving. Fart jokes and gags will only take it so far, and the slapstick humor gets old without the action setpieces Tsuno crafts.
This is where Mad Cats is at its best. The actresses playing the “Mad Cats” all bring special weapons to the film. Everything from a pitchfork to automatic handguns makes its way into the arsenal. More often than not, it’s actually fun to see the gang work. After all, they’re mostly slaying bad people who did bad things to defenseless animals. Making the cats into literal humans also makes for some bizarre performances, but ultimately these serve to heighten the reality and establish the silliness. The choreographed fights are genuinely excellent and make for above-average martial arts showcases.
Mad Cats fluctuates between absurdity that goes overboard and one of the funniest movies at Slamdance in years. Somewhere between the two lies the truth, but one will never be bored watching the martial arts comedy. Keep an eye on Tsuno, who should continue to embrace his vision. At worst, we know he will make some of the most creative, if not outrageous, movies of each year.