September 08, 2014
As a tribute to my sister's cat Aurora, who departed for kitty heaven last week at the ripe old age of 19½ (that's 95 in human years), here's a wonderful show about cats.
Though I'm not a pet person, cats project a "leave-me-alone" aura I respect. A neighborhood cat likes to nap on my back porch. Now and then another cat shows up (I don't understand the appeal of my back porch) and they get one of those "When are you going to leave?" vs. "No, you first" standoffs.
Sometimes, company is neither desired nor appreciated. Hottoite (ほっといて): "Leave me alone and mind your own business." The term is discussed in the first video at 6:30 as a particular feline characteristic. "Unfortunately," Iwago observes, "cats aren't necessarily happy to be photographed."
I totally get it.
Dogs evolved to be attentive and empathic human companions, but the whole "give me attention" business gets wearying (that and treating the entire outdoors as a toilet). The neighbor's dog obsessively announces every change in the status quo, including things it's seen several hundred times already.
Meaning everybody and everything it doesn't actually live with. Clouds. Its own shadow. The wind. Passing neutrinos. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. Take a breath. Bark bark bark bark bark bark. And so on and so forth. Cats are infinitely more tolerable mammals to share your immediate environment with.
Which perhaps explains why Iwago's Cats (「岩合光昭の世界ネコ歩き」) is one of my favorite programs on NHK. It's produced by the same team that does Somewhere Street, NHK's equally understated travel show.
As the title suggests, wildlife videographer Mitsuaki Iwago travels around the world capturing the life of cats in various urban and semi-rural environments. One difference with Somewhere Street is that the visual narrative will break the fourth wall and show Iwago talking about and interacting with the cats.
Like Somewhere Street, it's a serene and laid-back travel show that's more about the people than the places. Iwago treats the cats as the people and shows us the world through their eyes and activities. The cats really do start to take on the attributes of fully sentient beings.
Iwago's Cats is one of those NHK shows that makes wonder why nobody's licensed it. The cultural references are all local. The narration is mostly off-screen and (sounds) improvised, so could be easily dubbed (by a cat-loving actor with a mellifluous accent.) But many episodes can be found on YouTube.