Tuesday, 5 August 2014

ねこぢる草 / Nekojiru-So / Catsoup Grass / Cat Soup

Nekojiru-So is a very weird short animation. In weirdness, it’s right up there with Mind Game and even A Country Doctor. The 2001 animation is an adaptation of the drug-influenced manga of the artist Nekojiru – which means catsoup – who sadly committed suicide three years earlier. I must confess, I do not know how much of the trippiness derives from the original work, as I have never read it, nor seen the prior collection of 2-minute shorts Nekojiru Gekijou. But I get the impression her vision is maintained in the out-and-out weirdness here. No surprise, Yuasa Masaaki was a screenwriter here. 

Let me try to recount the plot, as I recall it. The young humanised cat Nyatta almost dies trying to fish his toy truck out of the bath. This near-death experience, apart from letting him pass a group of women gossiping in squeaky voices like Sweep from Sooty and Sweep, also allows him to see his sick sister Nyaa-ko’s soul being taken away. Apparently the one taking her soul is meant to be the bodhisattva Jizou – patron deity of dead children – he looks a hell of a lot more like a cutesy Shiva. Anyway, Nyatta pulls his big sister’s soul back with him, but succeeds only in splitting it in two. When Nyatta recovers from drowning and the dead Nyaa-ko is revived using this half-soul, she is more or less vegetative.

On a quest to buy some tofu, the siblings stop at a circus where the Abrahamic god seems to be performing, sawing up a woman and reassembling her, giving form to his words and presumably being behind the circus’ main attraction, a giant bird full of his cloud-breath that makes pretty colours when it squawks. Inciting these squawks, however, foolish men go too far, the bird fills up with rainclouds and then water, and finally bursts, flooding the whole world.

Nyatta and Nyaa-ko end up on a wooden arc with a pig they treat very cruelly. He offers them tasty fish that gathered to eat the boat occupant’s poop under their toilet, but the cats prefer to unzip the pig’s outer skin and remove the tasty butchered pork cuts from inside him, which they fry up and eat - including the pig autocannibalising himself. Out on the sea, a creature is pregnant with kittens, but eaten by baby pterodactyls, whose poop puts the baby kitten into the flowers the grow beneath them. One fish, meanwhile, has a small adventure trying to make a break for it, but some samurai chop him up into sushi. Undeterred, the fish bone swims on, seeing a giant muck-lump above the surface and then washing up on the shore, where a random child cat eats its eyeball and gets reprimanded.

The beach brings in sand imagery, and God empties the world’s excess waters, so that the world becomes desert. The poor pig is abused by the cats, who use him as a slave, riding in his skin and ultimately killing him. Nyatto loses an arm in the scuffle, but gets it reattached. In the house of some weird degenerate, who feeds them delicious food before putting them in a cauldron with vegetables, donning his bondage gear and trying to cut their heads off with scissors. He gets overexcited and falls in the cauldron himself, and the cats escape, first pulling off his scalp to reveal the robot parts underneath, then chopping off his limbs and shutting the lid on him. These are some violent kitties.

Back in the desert, they dig under a mushroom-y thing to find water, but uncover a water-elephant, which is pretty awesome. It has plenty for them to drink and they can even swim in it, but it finally evaporates in the blistering heat – moments before reaching a shoreline where giant Dalí-influenced mosquitoes stalk along. Cutting a cabbage-thing full of blood, God stops time, and for some reason the cats fall down into giant still scenes mostly of the ocean. In a rather lovely, extremely bleak sequence that follows after one cat finds a woman about to step in front of a subway train and cuts away her teardrop like a jewel, in the attempt by celestial beings to set time right again, everything is sped up, slowed down and reversed. The cats age in moments, car crash victims are restored, and bullets are sucked right out of the heads of the victims of a gangland or terrorist execution – the likes of which I’ve sadly seen from ISIS lately.

Time is turned back far enough that the cats are back on the arc. Jizou had hinted they need to find a flower, and they come across it past some weird steam-powered cat. This restores Nyaa-ko’s soul, so the two can return home – suggesting it may all have been a trip into the world of the dead. Except that back home, when Nyatto goes to the toilet, his family members all get switched off just like the picture on a CRT television. As does Nyatto. And then the screen itself.

Okay, I’ve taken about all the space I have just to summarise the bizarre plot, but that should convey just how weird this was. Like most super-weird anime, though, it is justified by its striking visuals, brief moments of heavy emotional significance and frequently unsettling atmosphere. J.C. Staff are at the most experimental I’ve ever seen them – though I guess if you condensed all Di Gi Charat’s weirdest moments you might come close – but also ambitious. Some of the sweeping shot compositions and the methods of realising vast scales are beautiful.

I can’t help but think I’d have loved this if the cats were a little more sympathetic, though. Cruel little buggers!

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