Cat Soup or Nekojiru-sou in its Japanese title is a lot stranger than its own name makes it out to be. It can be best described if you gave a loony philosopher, who just happened to love cats, some drugs this short film would probably be the result of what they see in their high. A series of abstract ideas presented in such a bizarre manner while seemingly nonsensical is alluring in its strange nature. It is very difficult to make any sense of it or confirm it means anything, but that’s part of what makes this short film have such a strong impression in such a small amount of time.
The story is basically about two cat siblings with Nyako, the brother, searching for some way to resurrect, Nyatta, his dead sister. The opening minutes of the short film are about as direct it’ll get. Beyond that point, it becomes a journey into the abstract. Filled with a visit to the circus involving seeing a magic act of a woman getting completely chopped into pieces, discovering an elephant made out of water in a desert, and the ocean becoming completely frozen to name few odd things you’ll see. As odd some of these descriptions are, they do get across simple ideas. For example, when the cat siblings visit the circus Nyako firmly believes he can fully resurrect his dead sister after seeing a circus act performing a seemingly impossible act. It is a simple moment that is straight to the point.
Virtually non-existent dialogue, the story is told in a way that the few lines of dialogue aren’t needed to understand the story. It’s a risky decision, but pays off to give off the vibe of being in a strange dream. Nothing is given a direct explanation when going from one event to the next. Instead of stopping in one area to explain the significance of a scene, it goes straight to the next odd scene. Its story is quite simple to get behind, but whether or not it has any meaning is never confirmed within the work itself.
It’s a single OVA meaning the protagonist motivation is kept at a basic level. Being more than enough to follow Nyako on his journey. His simplicity makes him appealing and immediately thoughtful. Simply seeing his parents’ negligence towards him and his sister in the household says allot about the bond he has with his family. With that said the story is essentially what you see is all you get. Allowing the viewer to form their own interpretation on everything that unfolded.
The supporting cast is filled mostly with anthropomorphic animals with some humans. Whenever a human character is on screen, it usually leads to trouble. They’re only given one purpose which is entirely fine since it’s going for more showing than actually telling. The only true negative to the characters is there is not much to analyze or sink into. All the characters are straightforward without ever diverting from their set path.
On the animation side J.C. Staff succeeds in creating a dreamlike feeling. Anathanpromorbic animals are given simple design that makes them look cute to greatly contrast against the cruel action. Humans are drawn like humans, though they don’t appear much in the OVA and often use a blank expression. It has a muted color palette that seems off visually making it seem as if life has been taken out of it. Emphasizing the whole surreal nature of the world where all the oddities belong can belong together. By design, it at times looks hand drawn and at one point even begins to look like a kid’s coloring book. Whatever J.C. Staff used to color their images in this OVA it looks as natural as coloring by hands instead of a computer.
There’s virtually no voice acting in the OVA. When there is dialogue it’s presented through a speech bubble that adds more to the dreamlike feeling than adding to the story. In the sound department stuff like footsteps, water flowing, ticking clocks, squeaky toys, and a dozen other effects make up the sound department. The music is split between sounding light hearted and welcoming which soon become interrupted by eerie static like noises. It fits the OVA perfectly giving an eerie, unsettling atmosphere in the darker scenes. It can also be sweet when in use during scenes where nothing out of the ordinary happens to simply show the cat siblings taking care of one another. The closing credits uses the most editing with a music box to close the OVA. Combining both childlike wonder and an eerie presence by looping the music box in at random moment.
On the DVD there’s an audio commentary track that is not exactly helpful to say the least. Director Tatsuo Sato explains that many of the scenes do not have an underlying meaning or if there was one, he forgot what it was. Admitting he had no intention in mind when putting the film together. So pretty much you make of what you see.
It was an oddity about half an hour long so even if I did dislike it the short length would be a saving grace. I like seeing strange stuff no matter how weird it gets. I’m just in shocked J.C. Staff actually made something I would call smart. In general, J.C. Staff doesn’t come across as a studio to take risks or stray off from their comfort zone with anime that are heavy on the slice of life elements or attempting to duplicate their previous success with a Shakugan no Shana clone. This short film doesn’t change my views on the studio as anything other than being average, but it has earned them more of my respect by creating something out of their comfort zone.
Cat Soup/Nekojiru-sou is like a collection of episodic shorts splice together into a 32 minute OVA with any true meaning to it left with no answer from what the material provides. It’s a short film with virtually non-existing dialogue that’s reliant on visuals alone by combining cute, simple designed characters in bizarrely dark situations to tell its story. This OVA is very much a visual experience that’s intriguing for the creativity it display in a short length. Watch it for the visuals and creativity, leave with your own meaning.
That concludes the review portion of this review. The remainder is simply a paragraph on my interpretation of the OVA. After that, it’s five paragraphs of what I learned about Chiyomi Hashiguchi, the mangaka of Nekojiru-sou. MAL has their own biography on the mangaka, but it was rather short so I wrote what I gather. With that written, continue if you like.
Bonus Passage: My Interpretation on the film (SPOILERS, SPOILERS HERE)
Based on my opinion and what I gathered. Nyako is sister is dead. Living alone with his drunkard father and mother who did not care. Nyatta was the only one who he had and he chased a miracle to rescue her. Catching god of death himself, Nyako took half of her soul, returning it back. However, she was not whole. He tried to find the other part half, and there is where the deeper part starts. The main idea of this anime is nobody can decide the lives of the others which can be seen in every person they have met. Old hag who made people from spare parts, being patched up herself. Guy who killed others, getting his again. Merciless, selfish circus which destroyed the whole world in the end and in the end Nyako never saw that his desires were actually selfish and that he opposed the God, who showed him how easily he can manipulate time and that only something like God can bring life back. When Nyako in the end saved his sister, because he was mortal it brought a total disorder to the Universe, literally canceling everything, making it vanish. This anime also brings up a topics like natural order, and that we all are part of the circle which is life and death. And that it’s nobody’s fault, that’s just how it is. In the end, God is just laid back dude who eats watermelons and sometimes turns back the time when he drops it down. Or in plain English, it’s likely represent the mangaka husband trying everything he can to save his wife by projecting his feelings onto the characters he and his wife created.
Condense Information I gather about the mangaka:
Chiyomi Hashiguchi, or Nekojiru by her pseudonymous pen name, was the author of a manga called “Nekojiru Udon” published in Garo magazine. “Nekojiru Udon” were based around her own bizarre dream experiences. In Hashiguchi diary (going by reproduced scrawls) reveals a very a fascination with communication breakdown and bodily malfunction, objectively noting every unpleasantry from vomiting dogs to accident victims.
With only the book, “Jusatsu Sarecgatta Boku” (some direct passages from the book), by Yoshiaki Yoshinaga to go on for information my knowledge on Chiyomi Hashiguchi is dense. According to those who knew Chiyomi Hashiguchi personally found her to be somewhat plain and misunderstood, but also unpredictable, mysterious and seemingly fragile if not for shadowy side of her internal personality which she expressed so vividly in her manga. According to the book Chiyomi was diagnosed with manic depressions as well in several occasions being heard saying “I’m not afraid of death”.
At the peak of her popularity in 1997-98, her once relaxed working atmosphere was no more as she had to produce large quantities of work which was out of character. Further reading reveals Chiyomi and her husband, Hajime Yamano (the artist of the manga) didn’t turn down a single offer for work meeting deadline after deadline. At this point in the book, it says many of the scenes depicted in “Nekojiru” were a blend of Chiyomi dreams and what she saw in real life. It’s rather unclear on the details of how to separate what were part of her dream and what she actually saw since she couldn’t separate it herself.
Overworked, she began to drink heavily from being overworked. It stopped being fun for Chiyomi to do her work and now was only a matter of making the deadline. Eventually Chiyomi had run out of ideas, but she had deadlines to meet, and did the best she could manage. She had a strong sense of responsibility, and always found a way of come through in the end. More than once, she found herself cornered by several deadlines and had to push herself to the brink of collapse to finish everything. Having was trying to commit suicide in the past, Nekojiru had written wills on a number of occasions. Her last extant will dated from several years prior. She committed suicide on May 10, in 1998 with the cause of her suicide unknown. The accounts of how it affected her friends were also in the book.
After some research on Chiyomi Hashiguchi doing a simple review wasn’t satisfactory for me. As depressing as it might have been reading the book knowing her tragic end I couldn’t find bring it in me to leave out what I learned about her. The book goes into detail about how she was as a person from accounts from those who her whereas I simply condensed the information I read. In turn, after learning all of this it has made me look at the short OVA in a different way. It’s depressing reading about Chiyomi Hashiguchi and what happened to her, but this OVA is proof she has not been forgotten which in a way makes me happy about its creation no matter what feeling the viewer will have after watching it.