For German animator Jon Frickey, “Cat Days,” a playful little tale about a boy discovering who he is began on a sick day in Kyoto and has become…something more.
“Cat Days,” a finalist in TheWrap’s 2019 ShortList Film Festival, follows a boy named Jiro who is diagnosed by a serious-sounding doctor with a flu that can only be contracted by cats. While the doctor doublechecks with a DNA test, Jiro and his father are left wondering if the boy really is a cat and the dad buying books on raising cats to better understand his son.
The idea for the film came in 2012, when Frickey came down with a bad case of the flu when he was living in Japan. While recuperating in the small apartment he rented with some friends, he joked that he had come down with “cat flu” from a cat who howled outside their building every night. That joke stuck with him so much that he decided to make a cartoon out of it.
“Now, on the one hand, the plot is obviously not genuinely Japanese — it could take place anywhere,” Frickey told TheWrap. “But, on the other hand, I wanted to be true to whatever exactly the inspiration for the film was, so I opted for keeping the setting in Japan. Also, of course, it made things much easier. If you have an idea and an atmosphere in your head, and you feel it works, just leave it that way, right?”
Not necessarily. Frickey realized that to stay true to his inspiration, he should probably do the story in Japanese. Fortunately, he found a friend who could translate the script and three native speakers to provide the voices (after an audition at the Japanese School in Hamburg, Germany).
Frickey described Jiro’s personal journey over the course of the 10-minute film as “the feeling that everyone tells you what you are and to you it becomes clear, deep down inside, nope, that’s really not what I am.”
He expects that for many viewers, that tale will be viewed through an LGBT lens. It’s something he welcomes, but wasn’t specifically what he had in mind when developing the film. But recently, that’s all changed.
“My son is 3. He loves pink, bright fingernails and likes wearing dresses,” Frickey said. “But he was just a baby when I started working on the film. So ‘Cat Days’ was not a personal film on that level — at least not at the time. Now it kind of is.”
Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote through Aug. 21.