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Cat Soup

Entry updated 3 March 2023. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2001; vt Nekojiru-sō). J.C. Staff. Directed by Tatsuo Satō. Produced by Yuji Matsukura. Written by Nekojiru, Tatsuo Satō and Masaaki Yuasa. No voice cast. 34 minutes. Colour.

Made in tribute to the Manga artist "Nekojiru", which roughly translates as "cat soup" – real name Chiyomi Hashiguchi (1967-1998) – who created the cute anthropomorphized Cats Nyatta and Nyako.

Whilst drowning in the bath Nyatta sees his sickly sister led away by Jizou, the Buddhist protector of dead children (see Eschatology): Nyatta attempts to rescue her but only gathers half of Nyako's soul; his father then pulls him out of the bath. With an incomplete soul Nyako is barely conscious, so the siblings go on a quest to retrieve the other half: they succeed, but after returning home they and their family disappear, one by one, like a television image once the plug has been pulled: the world goes dark and finally there is only static (see End of the World).

During their journey, which given the earlier presence of Jizou might have traversed hell, Nyatta and Nyako encounter death and surreal strangeness. At the Big Whale Circus, God (see Gods and Demons; Religion) cuts a woman into bloody pieces then restores her, whilst his words become physical objects; a bird that has swallowed the sky appears, bursts and causes a flood, leaving the pair on a small ark with a pig. Washed up on a desert shore, Nyatta loses a hand whilst killing the pig, but a woman who makes and mends cats from discarded body parts sews it back on. They arrive at a metal house, with weird art and Machines on display; its occupant tries to use them as ingredients for cat soup, but Nyatta tugs his hair, whereupon their cranium detaches to reveal a mechanical brain (see Cyborgs). A water elephant carries them away, but eventually evaporates in the desert. Elsewhere, God cuts open a world: one hemisphere falls off the table, jamming the clockwork of Time so that world's red crashing waves are frozen (see End of Time; Stasis Field): Nyatta plays on the resulting landscape. The pair's age fluctuates and they briefly turn human as God adjusts the mechanism so time's arrow goes backwards (see Time in Reverse), enabling him to remove the obstruction and eat it. Nyatta and Nyako are then back on the ark, travelling through a tin swamp where they pass a steam-powered Robot which shows them its pneumatic heart; a metal butterfly leads them to a flower, the other half of Nyako's soul. Nyatta plucks it and Nyako is restored (meanwhile, God has put Earth on a plate). The children return home for tea and, possibly because Nyatta has upset the order of things (or God is simply peckish), the world ceases to exist.

Though Cat Soup is seemingly brimming with symbolism, the director's commentary insists otherwise: "we, the creators, don't understand why things ended up the way they did." It is a grotesque and often disturbing film – given that Nekojiru committed Suicide, the dark tone is perhaps inevitable – and is justly considered a classic Anime. [SP]


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