Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weird Japan - Cat Soup

Made you look! no, they don't eat cat soup. Cat Soup is a short animated film of that name, about a kitten who drowns in the bathtub, and her adventure to get her soul back from Death. It's cute and bizarre, like many Japanese cultural emissions. At only 33 minutes, it's a quick little journey into mindfuckland for you chemically enhanced individuals to especially enjoy. It's based on a manga called Nekojiru-so, a black comedy that's been called "Hello Kitty on acid" and since there's no dialogue, only a few word balloons here and there, most of the interpretation is left up to the viewer.

It begins when little white kitten Nyaako drowns trying to get her toy out of the bathtub.
Her drunken father finds her and calls the doctor, but it's too late:
That night, her little brother Nyatta sees her being led away by Death, who tries to take her soul. He fights for it, and manages to get half of it. It goes back in her nose, but she's not herself, really. Death leaves them with an image of a flower, which apparently will restore Nyaako's soul, at least that's what wikipedia says.
That's where their strange, dreamlike journey begins, as they head to a Circus. There we encounter our first act of dismemberment, when a showgirl is turning to quivering cubes of bloody sushi (line stolen directly from The Running Man).

Then a robed man appears; is he God? He's definitely a magician. He creates whatever the audience asks, such as:

Note Nyaako's messed up eyes, she definitely looks like someone with half a soul. The man dutifully creates a golden elephant out of the ether.
The animation is quite beautiful, despite the kittens being drawn rather simply. It gets more and more detailed throughout the film. The next "act" at the circus is a water monster that the handlers seem to torture for their enjoyment. Eventually they pull the rope on its leg too tight, and it bursts, flooding the world and killing everyone.
The kittens end up on a boat with a friendly pig. There's nothing to eat, but Nyaako takes a dump over the side, which attracts a school of fish.

If you ever had a pet goldfish that liked to eat its own poo, you probably wondered how long a fish could survive on another fish's poo. At least I did. Luckily, the experiment was too complicated for me to set up. I wasn't going to put a fish in a bowl and then try to grab another fish's poo with an eyedropper. But that would be a pretty cool school science experiment. These days you'd probably be reported for feeding the fish poo, even though they seem to relish it. Damn poo-relishers.
Piggy catches some of the poo-fish and wants to eat them, but the kitties have other ideas.
I like this little throwback to the Warner Brothers cartoons, where after 5 minutes on a deserted island, your buddy starts looking like a walking pork chop. Do you know the word some cannibals have for human flesh is long pig? That would also make an awesome porn name for a meaty Samoan guy. "Long Pig Waukeloa stars in "Luau in Your Mouth."
There's a little sushi dance with samurai chasing the fish around and slicing them apart, then the dying fish jumps into the ocean, where it dreams of poo.
You can see its skeleton swimming around in the sunlit sea. And the poo ball above. It's probably not really poo, but earth or primordial matter, but they already established that fish eat poo, so I think it's primordial poo.
I think this poopolith helps the fish ascend to heaven. Shortly thereafter, God drains the Earth of water and the kittens find themselves in the desert with little piggy. They beat him to death for no good reason, and he bites the arm off of Nyatta. He finds a dollmaker to mend him, though. They follow the smell of food to a lone house run by of course, a strange man. He tries to cook them in a big cauldron, and he looks like Mickey Mouse in Gimp gear. They trick him into falling in, and escape back to the desert.
As they wander the sands in search of water, Nyatta digs and finds a Water Elephant they can drink and ride. It evaporates as they travel. Here's where things get sketchy, as God stops the flow of time, in that frivolous way the gods have. He's got a big honking great clock that runs the celestial spheres, and the kittens frolic in the frozen universe for a while.
They find the ocean again, and climb upon a whale frozen in the middle of a wave, one of the more beautiful scenes.
God's clock runs backwards for a time and this settles them back on their boat, but in marshland this time. The clockwork is covered with graven images, as if it is run by souls.
They see the aurora borealis and dream of the clockwork of the world as the end of their journey nears. In the swampland Nyatta finds the flower that will restore his sister's soul, and the clockwork continues to dial them back to where they began. Was it all a childhood dream of a young boy worried about his sick sister? Did she really die? Should we even wonder at all?
As the family sits around the TV for dinner, they each blink out like an old television screen, so maybe they're all just characters who disappear when we stop watching. It's certainly interesting enough to watch, trippy as it is. If you want a quick, trippy diversion it's a lot of fun, rather like a bizarre Japanese Yellow Submarine, or The Point!, just not for kids.

The original title, according to my friend Peter who lives in Japan, means something like "you can't eat hot food because you have a tongue like a cat" which I guess is right because while my cat once ate a rack of ribs down to the bone, cartilage and all, I never saw him eat hot soup.


Peter Dell'Orto said...

Double-check the translation with Sean. His Japanese vocabulary is much larger than mine.

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