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Cat Heaven Island on - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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Cats - hundreds and hundreds of them define the quiet island of Tashirojima. They have just a handful of elderly human residents for company, who maintain a life steeped in fading but beautiful Japanese culture. This heart-warming and evocative documentary explores how a tight-knit community of ever more wizened pensioners find joy in their unique island identity, and affection from their feline friends.

"It’s an adorable island of dreams" where "the young and the old hold hands, laughing or crying" sings village elder Kazuo-San in a rare moment of raucous festivity on this peaceful Japanese island. Welcome to Taroshijima, a secluded mountainous enclosure, home to a population of cats twice the size of its human demographic, and happily so.

For over a century, this charming fishing town has structured itself as a sanctuary for cats and their keepers. A watchful feline shrine overlooks the day-to-day goings on, while kittens frolic on country paths, and decorative baubles depicting the faces of cats hang from trees on the sea front. Shrouded in sleepy rural beauty, and divided from the mainland by extreme weather conditions that limit the passage of visitors, Taroshijima provides a true tranquil paradise for its pet-loving community. However, the island's ageing inhabitants fear for the future of their home.

"It gets quiet here, please make it alive again." Taroshijima has faced troubled times in recent years. A devastating aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake was increased threats to the cat population, including an infectious disease epidemic and an influx of predatory crows. Equally the town's declining human population risks stagnation in the absence of a school and a hospital. Many long for the glory of days gone by. 78-year-old Abe-San describes a festival ritual in which a giant cat statue would be carried through the streets, declaring wistfully "now we don't have anyone to carry it around."

Yet the people of Taroshijima are brimming with benevolence and good will, merrily shucking oysters, fixing upended fishing boats, and caring for the cats and each other with great generosity and affection. As the song goes, here, "you receive help and you give help." It is hoped that the fairy-tale magic of the island will be kept alive through the growth of tourism and the arrival of young new-comers. This heart-warming display of harmony between people and nature is impossible to resist.


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