Courtesy photoFun with felines: Mikako Ichikawa

Visual catnip at Mill Valley film fest

Fondness for cats is not a requirement to get the full measure of “Rent-a-Cat” — interest in people and appreciation for excellence are more important.

Naoko Ogigami’s film, screening Oct. 12-13 at the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival, is quirky, funny, sweet but not sugary, engaging and moving.

In her early 30s, the main character in “Rent-a-Cat” feels the world is  closing in on her. Mysteriously loved by cats, she has little luck finding human companionship.

With a tone reminiscent of “The Glass Menagerie” and the original Japanese “Shall We Dance,” “Rent-a-Cat” follows Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa) as she goes about her daily routine taking care of her small house and yard, with cats everywhere.

She conducts her business walking around town with a cart, parasol and megaphone, looking for lonely people who would benefit from renting a cat.

Each episode is bittersweet and memorable, adding up to an experience that stays with the viewer. Ogigami, 40 — who studied film at the University of Southern California and has been making feature films (“Yoshino’s Barber Shop,” “Glasses”) in Japan for the past decade — repeats situations and phrases with slight variations. The result is hypnotic, making “Rent-a-Cat” just as unpredictable as … cats.

As typical, the festival also boasts big names: It opens Thursday with David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” starring  Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in Mill Valley; and with Walter Salles’ “On the Road” starring Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen in San Rafael.

A late-addition highlight is Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva; it won the Palme d’Or Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

Closing night is “Life of Pi,” directed by Ang Lee, and based on Yann Martel’s novel about the young survivor of a shipwreck, cast away in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, and starring Gerard Depardieu, Suraj Sharma and Tabu.

Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck and Ken Burns are among other celebrities attending, along with Dustin Hoffman, who will screen his directorial debut “Quartet” at a sold-out benefit on Oct. 9.  The film is about aging opera singers (Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins) in a retirement home who are surprised when a famous diva (Maggie Smith) arrives unexpectedly.

IF YOU GO

Mill Valley Film Festival

Where: CinéArts@Sequoia, 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael, and other venues

When: Thursday through Oct. 14

Tickets: $13.50 most screenings

Contact: (877) 874-6833, www.mvff.com

SELECT HIGHLIGHTS

“On the Road”: 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Rafael 1 and 2

“Silver Linings Playbook”: 7 and 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sequoia 1 and 2

“Amour”: 7:15 p.m. Oct. 9, Sequoia 2

“Rent-a-Cat”:
6  p.m. Oct. 12, Rafael 1; noon Oct. 13, Sequoia 2

 “Life of Pi”:
5 p.m. Oct. 14, Rafael 1; 5:15 p.m. Oct. 14, Sequoia 2

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