Makoto Shinkai’s She & Her Cat -Everything Flows- and the Bittersweet Impermanence of Growing Up (Allegories in Anime #1)

She and Her Cat -Everything Flows- is a short film about a young woman who is living by herself for the first time and falls into a pit of despair. She’s accompanied by her long-time family cat, who also narrates the story, which is expressed via his perspective. Not only was this one of the very first Makoto Shinkai works that I had ever seen, but it was also one of the creator’s earliest projects, which helped to kick-off his brilliant career. I find this anime to be such a perfect starting point for him because not only does it allegorise the very essence of what it means to live, but it also sets the foundation for this creator to grow into the master that he has presently become.

The centre stage of the film is occupied by an elderly cat, who reminisces about the many, many years he has spent in the care and comfort of his human female companion. He can recall morsels of memories from when he was brought in the home and the many different milestones and experiences that he has journeyed through along with her as she grew up from toddler to child to teen and finally to adult. It is wholesome in that it incites a certain type of comfort and that only those who have intimate connections with their animal friends can truly understand and empathise with. Yet it also stirs a bit of unease and despair because, just like everything else in life, we know it cannot last forever.

The bittersweetness of living is a common recurring theme in Shinkai’s works that we shall explore as I dive deeper into this film venture, but what makes it so outstandingly brilliant is the various levels and dimensions of life that is used to portray that bitterness and the underlying beauty within. Life is not perfect and nor does it ever truly go the way we anticipate or hope. The unpredictability of moving from one hour to the next, one day or one week to one year to the following is one that is rich in esoteric experiences that take us by surprise and propel us into certain aspects of growth and acceptance that we never even thought we were capable of.

What the Cat represents is a warm sense of security that most of us feel in our youth and adolescence, that sense that things shall always be rather carefree and light-hearted. As we approach the precipice of maturity and real life starts to take over, separating us from the support networks we have established over the years, does an incredible feeling of loneliness and uncertainty set in, particularly as we are taken further away from the warmth that we have grown so accustomed. It’s a bit like a baby chilling in the womb until it’s ready to come screaming out into this giant, frightening world.. This can be said for every phase in life, not merely from teenagerhood to adulthood.

When She moves into her own place, She physically and mentally leaves behind everything that She has ever known in life thus far. The inspiriting presence of her parents, her friends, her routines and the familiarity of the house that she grew up in. The only thing that is a constant with her is her kitty friend, who has been there through the thick of everything. Her inconceivable dive into loneliness is quick and deep. Her depression reminded me a lot of my own when I first moved out of my parents’ home. Most of my days and nights were quiet with nothing but my memories and my thoughts to keep me company, which intensified my doubts of surviving as an adult, if whether I was truly ready to be on my own or not, to become victorious in this battle for successful management of independence.

Cat can feel that his time is running out, but he refuses to let go until he knows that She will be okay. Not great, or perfect, or even guaranteed to survive, but only that She finds strength and confidence within herself to know She can do it. It’s something that always makes me cry vehemently when I watch She and Her Cat and leaves me melancholy long afterwards because it’s such a perfect representation of the impermanence of living.

Nothing lasts forever, as I’ve mentioned briefly above. Our human connections—familial, friendly, romantic, animal-related, etc.—are unfathomably fleeting. One moment we have it in our grasp and the next it’s nothing more than a fading pictograph of memories that we struggle to hold on to as we get older. While life itself isn’t permanent, our experiences, insight, and wisdom are. They are the diamonds we grow in our brains and our hearts to keep us company with each new adventurous maze we take on.

For example, Christians have The Bible, Muslims have The Qur’an, Buddhists have Sutras, and many other faiths have their respective holy books and references. What are these if not an accumulation of insight and histories of lived experiences? The people who underwent them are long dead, yet they live on as sagacious lessons for those who come after. There are treasures that we take from the currently dying phase of life as we step into the next budding one.

When Cat dies, it completely breaks my heart. I tend to cry and cry for hours after viewing that scene. There are three main reasons why; firstly, I have five cats and the idea of any of them dying (I know it’ll happen one day) is excruciatingly unacceptable to me. Secondly, I recognise that the experience of great grief and loss will also mark the start of something new (I experienced this when my bird of 26 years passed away in March). Thirdly, it reminds me that life is so very easy to take for granted because we never expect things to disappear. It’s so much easier to hold on to a feeling or connection and believe one-thousand percent that it shall last forever. As humans, we lean towards the positive and optimistic as a survival mechanism. To willingly face grief and pain in such an upfront manner is nigh impossible (at least until it happens, proving us how brutally possible it is).

With Cat’s death comes the woman’s acceptance of her adulthood. Her tears and her mourning aren’t only for the long-time animal friend she’s shared nearly her entire life with, it’s also for everything that has helped nurture her until this moment where she steps into being a working woman and an independent person. She grieves for the childhood left behind the warmth and security of being young and naïve, and so hopelessly unexpecting. A new phase of maturity and development is starting which shall again end and start anew when she falls in love, or has children, etc.

The reason I believe this is the perfect anime to start with when beginning a Shinkai journey is because it very much allegorises his career. With each new project, he undergoes his very own set of growing pains with respect to creativity and storytelling. Each new project represents a very different aspect of life that adults deal with, whether it’s unrequited love, struggling with cultural identity, or battling the forces of doing what’s “right” for others versus what’s “right” for you. Each new project also helps to accentuate and emphasise his not only his evolvement as a director, but also as a person. It connects to a new audience with new and different experiences who are at very different points in their adventure of life. Plus, it also depicts a rather intimate impression of loneliness and uncertainty that he must have felt himself as he stepped out and took centre stage in his professional pursuits.

She and Her Cat -Everything Flows- is a breath-takingly, heart-breaking yet stunningly instigative look at the space between adolescence and adulthood, the leap from safe and secure, to risky independence, and so much more. Everything flows in life because things eventually wilt and die to nurture the succession of existence afterwards. It’s a cycle, and you quite literally can’t have one without the other. It just doesn’t work… or in this case, it doesn’t survive nor thrive.

Allegories in Anime Series Announcement
Shinkai’s She & Her Cat (#1)

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4 thoughts on “Makoto Shinkai’s She & Her Cat -Everything Flows- and the Bittersweet Impermanence of Growing Up (Allegories in Anime #1)

  1. Great write-up. I really can’t wait to read the ones you’ll do for Garden of Words and Weathering with You. 😉

  2. I’m not a pet owner, so it was remarkably refreshing to have a perspective from a pet owner on She and Her Cat: the death of any pet, even those that one does not own, is devastating. Some years ago, I worked at a company whose owner had two dogs, and he’d bring them in every other day. One evening, we got an email from the owner, saying one of the dogs was in for surgery, but the next morning, we learnt the dog couldn’t make it. He was a little Yorkie, and always brought us so much joy.

    It looks like you ended up watching the newer She and Her Cat: the original one Shinkai had made was in monochrome and ran for 4 minutes. It’s a little more poetic and is more melancholic, rather than openly saddening, but still worthwhile!

    • I’ve seen the monochrome one and it’s so fantastic, but yes, much more saddening. I knew if I focused on that one then this post would never ever get written lol. One thing I can say for sure, this Shinkai project is going to have me crying a looooot. RIP my eyeballs and my heart.

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