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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cat Soup: The DVD Cover... It Bleeds!

There really isn't any way to concisely describe this title... It's weird, surreal, slow-paced, disturbing, silly, childish, adult, and all in roughly 30 minutes! This is Cat Soup.

Nekojiru/Cat Soup, real name Chiyomi Nakayama, was a mangaka who became well known for her works involving a world where animals live just like humans do... And she wasn't afraid to be both cute enough to attract a strong female audience while also being adult, dark, & violent enough to attract a strong male audience. Her works were so popular that in 1999 a TV series, Nekojiru Gekijou/Theater - Jirujiru ORIGINAL, was made that lasted for 27 two-minute episodes, and since that show was fansubbed years ago I might review that at a later date. For now, though, I'm going to focus on the award-winning 2001 OVA, Nekojiru-so (Cat Soup Grass) that Central Park Media felt was so crazy that it was worth releasing on its own.

Nyatto & Nyako are two cat children who live with their parents. Nyako is deadly ill & Nyatto decides to play with a car in the tub, drowning himself in the process. In his near-death experience, Nyatto sees a figure taking Nyako's soul away, and when he catches up he tries saving his older sister, but only getting half of her soul back. Nyatto is revived but Nyako dies before Nyatto decides to put her half-soul back into her body; Nyako revives, but is essentially brain-dead. Mother sends the two out to get some food, but Nyatto decides to drag his brain-dead sister with him to a circus & magic show... Which ends up in the flooding of the entire planet. And this is only the beginning of the siblings' adventure.

Cat Soup is almost too weird to put into words. While it doesn't go into tossing crazy imagery at you at all times, that's saved for the end, when God stops, fast-forwards, & rewinds time solely so that he can recover the melon he dropped on the clock of time, the stuff that's shown in this half-hour is simply all over the place. A gigantic, transparent bird that's filled with clouds & water that's tortured into squawking stars, and each time it's tortured the clouds inside get darker & darker, until it creates a storm inside the bird that ends up blowing the creature up, resulting in the world-covering flood I mentioned in the synopsis? Yeah, I just typed that, and it exists in this OVA. How about an elephant made entirely of water that the cat kids use to traverse the desert until the sun ends up evaporating it? What about a pig that ends up on the same boat as the cat kids, only for Nyatto to end up tackling & undress him, revealing his best meat sections drawn out? Or how about the fact that the pig could be unzipped and have portions of him pulled out so that they could all eat, including the pig himself in an act of self-cannibalism? But what a man who feeds the cat kids solely so that he can put them into a giant pot to make a literal cat soup while wearing a dominatrix outfit with a mouse face mask? Trust me, this sounds like a lot, and it is, but this is all in this OVA, and there's even more that I'm purposefully not bringing up!

This is a 100% visual journey, with absolutely no voice clips being used outside of gibberish talk the denizens all use. Yeah, there are some speech bubbles, but there are only about ten times where they are used. Thankfully, this OVA uses its visuals perfectly, bringing about a story that is filled with odd imagery yet also tells an understandable journey; no scene has a transition that makes no sense as long as you're paying attention. I can understand if some people get too absorbed in the crazy imagery to not realize that there's an actual adventure going on, though. I can admit that the first time I saw this, back in 2008, it certainly confused me at times, but upon a second watch now I do have a much higher appreciation for it.

There are three main names to credit for this production. The first is the director Tatsuo Sato (Nadesico, Ninja Scroll TV, Bodacious Space Pirates), whose main focus was to simply adapt a Nekojiru manga into animation while not softening the violence & darkness her stories tended to have. This production was made after Nekojiru's unfortunate suicide, and after seeing some basic image boards, her husband gave Sato's crew complete control over the production, and it really let Sato let his men do essentially anything they wanted to do, even if it made themselves wonder if they really should do it or not. The second name to credit is Masaaki Yuasa (the then-future director of Kaiba, Kemonozume, & The Tatami Galaxy), who did the storyboarding, scenario writing (with Sato), animation direction, & planning. In the making of feature on CPM's DVD, Sato admitted that he gave Yuasa free-reign to draw what he wanted, as he sensed that Yuasa had not been able to show off his skills properly in the short key animations he had done in the past. Considering that Yuasa has gone on to direct the three titles I mentioned earlier, all of which are known for their distinctive looks & executions, I'd say that Sato did the right thing. Finally, the third name to credit is Yutoro Teshikai, who did the music. Teshikai had previously done the music for Kujira no Chouyaku - Glassy Ocean, a similarly esoteric production & Sato was actually recommended Teshikai by King Records. Teshikai's work here is very subdued yet absolutely perfect for this production; even when all of the crazy imagery is going on Teshikai's soundtrack still maintains a sense of child-like wonder. There's an easy reason why this OVA won the 2001 Media Arts Festival, Agency for Cultural Affairs "Excellence Prize" and the Fantasia Film Festival 2001 award for Best Short Film, and it's the combination of these three men, alongside the other people in the crew that Sato seemingly let run wild.

I've tried my hardest to explain why Cat Soup is such an amazingly weird production, but the best way to properly get an idea of what this title is about is by simply watching it yourself. I hear it's available on YouTube, but I easily recommend buying the DVD CPM put out in 2003. There's the normal edition, shown left, & the "Liquid Art Limited Edition", shown right, which features a cover that has a bag of red liquid that's meant to look kind of like blood. Neither release is exactly cheap, but you can usually get the regular edition for at least $12-$15 used. Extras-wise there's the interview with Tatsuo Sato I mentioned earlier, which is really extensive & definitely a great watch, and there's also a feature-length commentary with Sato, which I have not listened to yet but is likely just as interesting. Honestly, though, I just don't see Cat Soup ever being license rescued. Even though it's easily one of the most interesting anime productions you can watch it's just too short to warrant being released on its own nowadays. Maybe a company can try licensing Nekojiru Gekijou, which totals to about one hour, then license Cat Soup, & then try to package them together in one Cat Soup Collection. This is a title that I honestly hope can continually stay in print over here, as it's simply too weird, & interesting, to ignore.

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