THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS (Japan, 1986) ****
If you have kids, take them to see MILO AND OTIS. If you don't, borrow a child. If that doesn't work, go just the same.
I do not, as a rule, buy those half-baked, persistent theories about movies being a communal experience, because in general this means that you step on communal goo on the floor and that you have to put up with loud laughter just as you're thinking how dumb a scene is. But , exceptionally, do try to see MILO AND OTIS when there are children (but not hordes of them) present. You'll find that their giggles, their silences , their nervousness and laughter to be heartwarming.
The movie is not a cartoon feature. It uses live animals. Not a single human ever appears or is heard from. The story deals with a male ginger farm kitten (Milo) and his friend, a male pug puppy (Otis) who get into all sorts of mischief , mostly with other barnyard beasties. One day playful Milo hides from Otis in a wooden box, in a river, and gets carries away by the current. This begins his Odyssey and his encounters with mother Nature and a host of animals, including a friendly fox, a less friendly young bear, hedgehogs, racoons, piglets and Mama Pig, defensive seagulls, a snake and more. In the meantime Otis goes off to find Milo and has his own (but smaller) amount of adventures, notably with a helpful sea-turtle whom he rides to get off an ocean rock on which he was marooned.
The saga goes on through all the seasons as both cat and dog mature. Eventually the friends meet and Otis rescues Milo from a pit. Then Milo encounters a pretty white female cat .It it is love at first sight. Otis, upset, goes his way, but he too meets a cute she-pug. Separately Otis and Milo found families. Reunited, they return to the farm with wives and litters.
It may sound silly and babyish, especially as it is treated not as a nature documentary but in the anthropomorphic, Disney-like fashion of attributing human thoughts and reactions to animals. But it works beautifully. It is a meticulous labor of love based , I guess (lacking any press information) , on highly trained animals, setting up situations and shooting miles of film (400,000 feet) from which painstaking editing forms new situations.
That's how you get Milo sleeping with Otis and other animals, the two friends almost hatching a hen's egg, Milo helping himself to milk from a sow, gamboling with a fox cub, fishing for trout with his tail and other imaginative scenes.
The movie must have used many look-alike dogs and cats, but they blend very well. There's a wealth of combinations and permutations of animal scenes and nature scenes , all attractive. Some are quite suspenseful, but in such ably handled contexts that they do not overtax the nervous system of children.
Amazingly, you could swear that the farmhouse, its implements and the landscapes are in the wilds of Canada or the north of the USA. Yet the film was made in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It does not look a whit like the standard views of Japan shown in countless photographs and movies.
Director-writer Hata is a novelist, a zoologist and the owner of an animal farm. This, plus the help of a great Japanese filmmaker (Kon Ichikawa) results in anthropomorphism which is not cloying, corny or condescending.
The film took 5 years to make. It came out in Japan in 1986 as KONEKO MONOGATARI. In 1989 its original 90 minutes were cut to 75 (astute viewers may notice some odd cuts); Mark Saltzman rewrote the screenplay; music by Ryuichi Sakamoto ("Japan's David Bowie") and some poetry by Shuntaro Tanigawa (both said to be superior) were eliminated. In their place comes a surprisingly good narration, spoken by Dudley Moore who does a variety of voices ranging from pastiches of British actors to Monty Python-like intonations.
The music is now generic Western - but good, with borrowings from Aaron
Copland, Schumann, Schubert , Debussy and other classic composers.