Suzuo (Hiromitsu Kitayama) is a struggling manga artist. His most famous work, “Cat-Man”, has stalled before publication of the final volume. Suzuo has no interest in finishing this project, instead spending his time gambling at pachinko or the racecourse. Also, he hates cats and only drew the comic because he knew it would sell. His wife, Natsuko (Mikako Tabe), and daughter, Miyu (Kokoro Hirasawa) remain devoted to him despite his apparent laziness and inability to stick to his deadlines. When he is hit by a car and killed he is allowed to return to earth as a cat and manages to become part of Natsuko and Miyu’s lives again, although they remain largely unaware of his presence. He is helped by fellow cat, Whitest (Marie Itoyo), who teaches him what it means to comfort his family.
Based on the manga by Mina Itaba, with a screenplay by Toshiya Ono, this family film about losing a parent manages to balance lighthearted humour with some challenging themes. It is clear early on that Suzuo and Miyu’s relationship is loving. Despite his failings as a father she looks up to him, emulating him by drawing her own manga. The film’s central conceit is handled well with Kitayama dressed in a cat costume, rather than relying on digital effects. We do occasionally see him as an actual cat, but the choice to have him play the character in costume allows for much more emotional scenes between him and his daughter. The lack of flashy special effects also means that you are not distracted from the story and the acting can shine. Many of the scenes rely on the performances and dialogue as opposed to slapstick or low-brow comedy, such as when Suzuo arrives at the judgement desk of heaven, which is played as an amusing two-handed sketch between him and the judge, played by comic writer and actor Bakarhythm. Hiromitsu Kitayama’s comedic performance is highly entertaining, moving on from the initial fish-out-of-water humour when he is first reincarnated, to character driven humour and pathos. Young actor Kokoro Hirasawa is incredible as his daughter and provides the film an emotional core with some heart-breaking scenes between her and her father. “Tiger” is often surprisingly well shot for a film that is a knockabout comedy. The sequence when Suzuo chases the ambulance, or the scenes through the window, the warm room stark against the darkening night, show the filmmakers taking even a surreal comedy like this seriously.
“Tiger” is a film about dealing with the loss of a parent. Miyu, perhaps even more so than Suzuo, becomes the centre of the drama as she tries to come to term with her father’s death. Despite feeling ashamed of his behaviour at times she remains devoted to him and his sudden death forces her into reconciling her emotions and understanding her relationship with him. There is also a theme of what we are able to give to others. Suzuo is asked by the judge in the afterlife what he intends to do if he is given the chance to return and it is only later he realises what his role is for his daughter. As Suzuo explains to Whiteness, when she also has to deal with a bereavement, sometimes just being there is enough. For a film aimed at children the difficult themes are not glossed over. The use of reincarnation is not used as a way to sidestep the tragic inevitability of death, but rather offers a way of dealing with the grief it causes those who remain. The death of Suzuo is brutal and final and the film’s exploration of his passing is refreshingly unsentimental, giving us a look at coping and moving on for those left behind.