SUMMARY: Nyatta, a kitten, travels to the land of the dead to save his sister Nyako’s soul after she drowns in the bath.
WHY IT’S HERE: Japanese anime director Tatsuo Sato’s ‘Cat Soup’ is one of the most bewildering animated experiences ever created. This half-hour headtrip is based on the work of manga artist Nekojiru (whose pen name is a portmanteau of the words Neko and Jiru, meaning Cat and Soup, hence the film’s title) and follows the story of a young kitten’s trip to the land of the dead to save the soul of his drowned sister. Without prior knowledge of the plot, you would never piece together what ‘Cat Soup’ is about and even reading a synopsis beforehand doesn’t help much but it’s clear from the bizarre nature of what happens on screen that the meaning of the images is less important than the experience of watching them. Although the story stars innocent looking cats, this is by no means a children’s film and themes of death and cruelty, apparently frequently encountered in Nekojiru’s work, are prominent here. Witness the sadistic treatment of a pig who the kitten’s encounter on their journey. Although it may baffle Western viewers completely, animation fans will find much to enjoy in Sato’s bold surrealist imagery and the finale, in which the majority of the characters flicker into nothingness like a broken TV, is a moment which lodges itself in the mind and lies somewhere between disturbing and funny. This is a fair assessment of the whole film and given the troubling nature of some of the content it is not entirely surprising to learn of Nekojiru’s suicide in 1998. For Western audiences, ‘Cat Soup’ remains the most famous representation of her work and it is a unique, astonishing, if not necessarily always enjoyable, experience.