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Last year I wrote a blog post comparing the work of Japan's Studio Ghibli with that of French writer-director Jacques Rivette. The film that inspired the comparison? The Cat Returns. I should have noted in that post that Rivette is a cat person himself (If you don't believe me, check out The Story of Marie and Julien , which features one of the most charismatic felines in movie history) and that the understated curiosity running through both his and Ghibli's work might be described as catlike. Rivette's movies operate much like the cats I've known, quietly sneaking into dark places to look for secrets; they're also content to sit in the same spot for long periods of time. Ghibli movies are far more active, yet every one of them contains calm, patient stretches—they're very easy to cuddle up with. (Incidentally the cuddliest Ghibli film, Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, screens at the Siskel Center this Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday.)
Cats can be independent-minded to the point of obstinacy, sometimes rejecting their owners' affections for days at time and seemingly at whim. In this too one can see a correlation with experimental filmmaking, which can be less emotionally accessible than narrative cinema. Yet both reward those people who meet them on their own terms, who try to understand why the formal properties of celluloid can be as fascinating as a story or how an old sock might inspire vigilant stewardship.