….That pain that I’m feeling has to work its way into the story, or else what am I doing?Quinten Tarantino, interviewed by Charlie Rose
The Cat Returns is a “sequel” to Whisper of the Heart, acting as a representation of Shizuku’s story that we never had the opportunity to read. In Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku learned how to hone and polish her talent and walk her own path. We know that Shizuku struggled with this. After all, she thought she had to rush her writing because she just wanted to finish it, otherwise, if it wasn’t finished, it wouldn’t have mattered.
When someone is going through the process of creating anything, especially writing, it’s likely that you’ll see reflections of their struggles and hardships in the final product. Writing is a form of expression, so someone ill-equipped to express themselves with words might write their own book to express their feelings and ideas through a story.
Since The Cat Returns is Shizuku’s book presented as a movie, we can see the struggles she goes through in the events of Whisper of the Heart, through the motifs and conflicts that are presented throughout the story. Taking this into account, we can make an educated consensus on what the film wants its audience to learn from the experience since Shizuku used her book as a platform to express the issues she was living through.
The film’s main character, Haru, suffers from a fear of becoming independent. Through the film’s conflict, she experiences the consequences of settling for only what’s given to you, instead of following what’s in your heart. Baron Humbert von Gikkingen serves as Haru’s mentor and the hero of the story. After they escape the conflict of the story, Haru finds out how to forge her destiny and find out where she belongs.
Haru is a young girl who is completely clueless about what she wants and who she wants to be. This vulnerability is taken advantage of by a mysterious cat who calls himself the Cat King, after Haru saves his son, Lune, from being hit by a semi-truck. The Cat King tries to repay her by giving her “gifts”, like turning her entire front yard into cattails and sending her dozens of gift boxes containing live rats.
After the Cat King visits Haru at her house we find out that the Cat Kingdom is a hidden community in the outskirts of the city full of sentient cats.
Haru’s vulnerability comes to bite her when the Cat King tries to persuade (or rather, force) Haru to marry his son Lune, who just happens to be the prince of the Cat Kingdom.
How does the Cat King pull this off? He sends one of his underlings to check up on Haru after she’s received her “gifts”. This underling displays a calm and happy demeanor as he speaks. In addition to this, he reacts with great distress after Haru said that she didn’t appreciate the gifts that were sent to her. This is one method people will use to manipulate you, by taking advantage of your kind heart so you’ll feel pressured to do what they want.
Often when people try to manipulate you to do something or change you into someone else, they’ll remember what you’ve said in the past and use your words against you, and persuade you that what they want you to do is “cool”. In some circumstances, they’ll even try to convince you that you said something that never actually came out of your mouth.
This persuasion finally reaches its desired goal after the underling says to Haru “he’s not just a cat, he’s cool!”. For someone as vulnerable as Haru, this type of persuasion works, because being married to a cat prince means that she won’t ever have to worry about anything, and all her needs will be taken care of. She could settle for something that she’s ultimately not happy with, and by doing so, she would never have to make an independent decision ever again. For somebody as young as Haru, it’s hard to resist that mindset. Are you starting to see the connections to Whisper of the Heart?
For a lot of us, myself included, independence is a scary concept, especially when we’re children. Becoming independent means that we are responsible for making our dreams a reality because nobody is going to do that for us. This why so many of us are stuck in minimum wage jobs and live in an environment where our needs are taken care of, like our parents’ house. For many of us, we’re too scared to take the first step because our sense of structure and security will need to be abandoned.
This is where Baron’s role comes in. Haru finds out who she wants to be all on her own through the challenges she faces, but it’s through Baron’s teachings that point her mindset in the right direction. Baron is merely a guide, not a crutch, much like a life coach or a therapist. After Haru is kidnapped by the Cat King’s underlings, she is sent to the Cat Kingdom, and Baron takes off after her.
Baron Humbert von Gikkingen
After Baron learns of Haru’s predicament, he assures her that once she finds out where she belongs, she won’t have to worry about anything else. According to Baron, once you find what’s most important to you, petty issues and other problems won’t matter to you anymore.
If you find that one piece of you that you love the most, you won’t have to search for external sources of gratification to feel validated. After all, if you know you have the confidence and motivation to take on the responsibilities of walking your own path, nothing will ever stop you from achieving your goals. This confidence will emerge inside once you find something that ignites that special fire within your heart. This fire is going to be represented as different things for everyone. It might be a sport, teaching self-help, motivational speaking, or even becoming a musician or programming video games. This is exactly what Baron is trying to communicate when he talks about finding out where you belong. You can use the word cloud exercise I mentioned in my last post to find out what you’re most passionate about.
Here’s an example of what that might look like. In the movie Cast Away, we saw that Chuck Noland was able to move on after finding out that his wife Kelly married another man after the events that took place on his island since everyone he knew thought he had died in the plane crash.
He knows it hurts, but he also knows that he has the confidence to walk his own path, so he doesn’t need Kelly to feel fulfilled. In the final scene, we see him in an intersection in the countryside, where there are plenty of different roads, or “paths” he can take. Any one of them would be valid, and any one of them would be just as adventurous as the other because nothing is holding him back.
Sometimes all it takes for us to find out how to appreciate life is a terrible experience that reminds us of what life is all about, which leads me to the next section.
The Consequences of Settling
Now, unfortunately, one of the harsh realities of life is that we will never be able to apply any of this information until we go through something traumatic or unsettling, where this information suddenly makes sense to us and holds more value. If you’re reading this, than you might have already experienced an obstacle that was fabricated from the mistakes you’ve made. If that’s the case then you’re in the right place.
For Chuck, it took the separation from his wife and seven years on a deserted island to learn how to appreciate what he has and practice self-love. For Pi Patel in Life of Pi, it took the death of his family and ending up stranded in the middle of the ocean in a lifeboat with the company of a Bengal Tiger, to learn his life’s purpose.
In Haru’s situation, she had to experience the consequences of allowing people to manipulate you and take over your life. Once she made it inside the Cat King’s palace, she started turning into a cat and was given nothing to eat but raw fish. Baron ensures that she stays on the right path by saying “No Haru, this place is not for you”.
For Haru, this whole adventure was all about finding out where she belongs. Generally, people only ever learn about life until after they’ve made a mistake. If our brains have never experienced this type of hardship, it won’t mean anything to us unless we have experienced a problem where we can apply that information to solve it. Losing friends, ending up in horrible predicaments, saying something out of anger that you don’t really mean, and settling for something you don’t want, are all examples of what finding out where you belong is all about. Just remember that it’s okay to make these mistakes. That’s what learning is all about!
You should be noticing a pattern here. Everyone successful in life encountered an obstacle that forced them to take action. Failures and mistakes are a part of life, and we need them for us to grow. Don’t ever forget that.
In the next section, I’ll show you how settling for long periods can lead to the formation of dependency issues. You can use this information as a warning for what happens when you settle for anything less than what you want.
Dependency Issues in Modern Day
For people who are confused about who they are, they might resort attaching to someone they’re infatuated with in the hopes that this person can fix them, or stand behind a huge movement to feel like they’re taking part in something bigger than themselves.
In the first scenario, these people don’t have the confidence to pursue a passion, so they resort to settling for an unhealthy attachment to someone else in the hopes that this person can fix the problems that are deep inside of them.
Alternatively, they could also be susceptible to joining a movement or group to feel like they’re fighting towards a problem that’s affecting their culture or society because they don’t have any personality or uniqueness outside of participating in this group, it can be very hard for them to make friends. Both of these scenarios are symptoms of dependency issues.
In the first scenario, their mind sees the person they’ve formed an attachment to as a band-aid that will solve their problems. Their subconscious knows that they aren’t motivated or confident enough to pursue what they want on their own, so they’re hoping that this person can do it for them. They’ll likely be unable to feel happiness without this person because of this and can immediately feel withdrawals once this person has left them for an extended period of time. This could then lead to stalking behaviors, severe depression, and even thoughts of murdering this person so nobody else can “have them”.
In the second scenario, the person in question sees this movement as a way for them to feel like they’re doing something important. Since they can’t feel this sensation through their actions out of a lack of confidence, they might see this movement as a method of feeling like they’re participating in something bigger than themselves. This type of behavior can lead to discrimination of anyone who doesn’t support the group they associate with, or people who are indifferent to the group. We can see examples of this type of behavior in the LGBT and Feminism communities, where radical members have been known to alienate heterosexual individuals, and men respectively.
This radical behavior can bring the wrong impression to outsiders of what these groups are all about, and will leave a terrible mark on the people trying to make a difference.
In the next section, I’ll show you a method I use to learn from my mistakes by experiencing hardships that were my responsibility. You can use this method yourself to turn painful experiences into learning experiences to help you grow as an individual. After experiencing something painful, you’ll be less likely to settle after you’ve experienced the consequences of remaining passive towards the problem.
How to Learn From Your Mistakes
One tactic I sometimes use to help me make better decisions is to allow myself to be hypocritical. Have you ever been in a situation where people are screaming at you to prevent you from doing something, and no matter how much sense they make, you just can’t listen to them?
Here’s a scenario situation as an example. If I know my relationship with my partner is going downhill and I don’t have the heart or mental fortitude to end it or do something about it, I’ll say something like “I know this is going to bite me later, but I don’t want to deal with this right now. I have accepted the consequences that will come from this decision, and I know I’m going to be hurting, but I don’t have the mental strength to deal with this right now”.
I have found this tactic to be very useful in some situations, because as I said before, the only way we learn how to grow is by making mistakes. In this scenario situation, if I don’t have the heart to do something about the problem, I might be better off experiencing the consequences that will come from this situation with my partner, so that I can grow and learn how to be a better partner, even if it means ending the relationship. If we don’t make mistakes, then there’s nothing to learn from, and that, by definition, is perfection. If everyone was perfect, life would be boring, and everyone would have the same job, the same interests, and the same mannerisms.
If you know you’re going to fail, do it now and get it over with so you can learn from it and move on. Prolonging the inevitable will only shove more trouble and more pain in your direction. Secondly, people respect honesty. If you preemptively accept responsibility for the actions you’re about to make, even if you know it’s going to be at your expense, people will respect you for being mature, and they’ll want to be around you more often. After the conflict is over, people will be more open to help you and talk to you because you accepted the responsibility of your actions. If you radiate honesty from your words and actions, then the last thing they’ll want to do is barrage you with “I told you so” types of comments.
After watching these two films, Baron Humbert von Gikkingen has become one of my favorite characters in fiction, tied with Richard Parker from Life of Pi. He is so relatable and provides so much insight that it feels as if he’s talking to the audience rather than Haru. This becomes even more magical once you consider that this film’s story was created by Shizuku during her struggles to find out where she belongs. That’s really what the magic of storytelling is all about. As Quinten Tarantino says in an interview with Charlie Rose:
…When I set out to do it, whatever is going on with me at the time, has to work its way into the piece. It has to, or the piece isn’t worth making.Quinten Tarantino, interviewed by Charlie Rose