One spring, a kitten called Milo and a puppy called Otis were born on farm, and as they were exploring their environment the mischievous Milo bumped into Otis and remarked he was a funny looking cat, to which he replied he was not a cat but a dog, and thus a firm friendship began, leaving them inseparable for much of the days as they grew up. They liked to play hide and seek, though Otis could always find his pal, and when the chickens laid their eggs they got to look after one of them until it hatched, though faced confusion when the chick thought Otis was its mummy. But Milo was a little too keen on taking chances...
And then they all died, the end. Although it never made newspaper headlines, The Adventures of Milo and Otis became one of the most controversial movies ever made, if only on internet message boards whenever it was brought up. That was thanks to the supposed carnage wreaked on the furry friends behind the scenes, which given some of that made it to the final cut might not be as questionable as the film's defenders might have liked to believe. It began as a Japanese work, Koneko monogatari meaning Kitten Story, which was part of a craze this decade for films featuring animals going about their lives.
In Japan as everywhere else, these packed in audiences, often the lucrative family ones, so seeing how successful Milo and Otis had been in its nation of origin the American studio Columbia took the footage and cut their own version, rescoring it and adding cutesy narration to the end result courtesy of Dudley Moore evidently channeling his memories of Johnny Morris on British kids TV show Animal Magic. It was this shortened version that was released to English-speaking audiences, and also did well, though its level was pitched at a far younger age group than the source had been, which was more of a philosophical take on the vagaries of Mother Nature, complete with scene-setting poetry readings.
So you can understand why when a movie is such a beloved part of happy childhood memories because of all those ickle wickle baby animals its adherents would be reluctant to hear anything bad about it. Nevertheless, the rumours continued to surface that up to thirty or so kittens had been killed all for the sake of getting the right shot, and there were certainly sequences where the creatures seemed to be getting a rough time of it, most notoriously when Milo was flung off a cliff into the sea by the filmmakers, and this after being attacked by seagulls in a scene which looks anything but healthy for the cat. Otis didn't get off scot free either, as he was attacked by a bear, a baby bear but it looks pretty vicious even if they were playing.
The kitten didn't appear too cool with being pushed over a waterfall in a box either - if anything it looks bloody terrified, obviously crying out in fear. Now, if the filmmakers' intention was to illustrate how harsh nature red in tooth and claw was in real life, why not make a documentary and not add a narrative to a bunch of loosely connected bits and pieces of staged, but still violent, footage? Or in fact was this the intention all along and Columbia's pursuit of the cutesy dollar a perversion of that - the associate director was Kon Ichikawa, no stranger to depicting the cruelties of existence, after all? The fact remains although this film was investigated, that occurred some time after shooting had wrapped and no proof was ever established, which has been a point of comfort to Milo and Otis fans ever since, for the most part the movie playing out with nothing that would have looked out of place in Disney's The Incredible Journey; then you remember Disney was the studio which pushed all those lemmings off a cliff and note this effort regularly shows animals pitted against one another. Playing?
Another oddity in the filmography of Japan's most eccentric major auteur, Kon Ichikawa. He also made I Am a Cat (1975), a serious drama told from the point of view of a talking feline.
Japan's animal obsession in the Eighties was part-sparked by the movie Antarctica (1983), the true story of a couple of cute lil' puppies abandoned at a research station. It became Japan's highest grossing movie of all time.
By the way, Masanori Hata was a respected nature writer and wildlife documentary filmmaker. So he really ought to have known better.