Kenzo Masaoka, “Suteneko Tora-chan” (1947)
A charming film about an orphaned kitten found and adopted by a family of cats, “Suteneko Tora-chan” addresses some of the concerns and issues of Japanese society in the period after World War II. The plight of war orphans was uppermost in people’s minds after the carnage of war. Keeping family together and everyone pulling their weight together just to survive adversity and poverty were also major concerns. A mother cat and her three kittens find a tiny abandoned orphan kitten, Tora-chan, and the mother and two of her kittens immediately adopt the orphan. The third kitten, Miike-chan, rejects Tora-chan and bullies him during the kittens’ play-time. When Mother Cat gently but firmly separates Miike-chan and Tora-chan, and treats Tora-chan as one of her children, Miike-chan runs away from home. Feeling responsibile for Miike-chan’s behaviour, Tora-chan goes in search of her. He catches up with Miike-chan but in trying to bring her home, the two kittens encounter many obstacles and hostile animals including a dog and a hen defending her chicks, and barely survive being dumped over a waterfall.
The animation is very graceful and well done with smooth transitions from one scene to the next. The cats are very endearing in their rounded forms and the background scenery can be very detailed. The adoption of Christmas at the beginning and end of the film, and the use of sunflowers as a motif delineating summer-time show the growing influence of Western and specifically American culture on Japanese society during the immediate post-war period. In the plot, the kittens’ arduous adventures, the characters of Mother Cat and Tora-chan, and the sung dialogue, the film tries to persuade its target family audiences to care more for war orphans and children made destitute by circumstances not of their families’ making. In caring for the young, Japanese society ensures that its collective values will survive and continue.