Cat Soup (2003)
Release Date: September 9th, 2003 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Tatsuo Sato Actors: Tatsuo Sato, Masaaki Yuasa, Kazutaka Someya
asic water effects introduce a cute little white cat, Nyatta, playing in a bathtub. From here, “Cat Soup” transitions to a dream sequence, in which backgrounds are distorted and reality is unclear – foreshadowing the utterly inexplicable subsequent happenings. Japanese vodka seems to be the reason for his sister Nyaako’s illness, but it’s the angel of death that leads her away. Nyatta witnesses the abduction and attempts to snatch her back, but only grabs half of her soul, leaving her brain-dead. Towing her lifeless but still marginally animated body with him, Nyatta sets out to retrieve the missing part of her soul from the Land of the Dead (or the “Other Side”).
His first stop is the Big Whale Circus; the final act involves a towering, water-filled penguin that bursts, flooding the tent. The two felines then board a boat captained by a hog, who attempts to feed them fish, but is instead stripped naked, sectioned into various cuts of meat and “unzipped” so that Nyatta and his sister can eat bacon. The pig is very much alive, however, and eventually samples himself. One of the fish originally intended for dinner leaps from the boat and narrowly avoids a legion of samurai swordsmen to return to the sea, where it washes up on the beach. The seafaring swine is now like a sack of oranges, with loose flesh creating a basket of sorts for Nyatta to sit in while he beats the creature like a mule. He vomits inside the pig and eventually bludgeons out its brains, losing his own arm in the process. Finally, a treacherous trek through the blazing hot desert leads Nyatta and his sister to the ultimate goal of retrieving a magical flower that will cure her lifelessness.
Characters speak with high-pitched squeaks, as if filled with helium – and, in fact, several are like balloons, evidenced when the plug is pulled from one cat in particular. There are very few lines of dialogue, instead relying on surreal imagery to narrate the story. At times “Cat Soup” is so hypnagogic it’s impossible to figure out what is supposed to be unfolding, making its purpose ridiculously obscure. An old man dumps the cats into a soup (presumably giving the film its name); a large figure in sadomasochistic leather gear wields immense shears in an attempt to decapitate them; and a water elephant mirage transports them through a desert landscape that shifts into a frozen, glassy red surf and then into a gray mushroom cloud forest controlled by the spinning wheel of time, which causes the creatures to fast-forward through both age and grainy, sketched illustrations. What does it all mean? “Cat Soup” is one of those films that relishes in its enigmatic premise and incomprehensible plotline; like many works of art, perhaps it’s just not meant to be fully understood.
There’s also an uncommon amount of blood and violence, seen when a circus performer saws a woman into thick slices and then reassembles her; when the pig is butchered; and when Nyatta has his arm sewn back on. Even background imagery is dark and morbid, showing sparse nudity and executions. It’s very much an exercise in weirdness, surrealism, and oddities, not unlike an animated version of “Un Chien Andalou.” Fusing David Lynch, Salvador Dali, and Hello Kitty, “Cat Soup” is a rare cryptic experiment that is both endlessly mystifying and not without its arcane appeal.
– Mike Massie