Nekojiru-sou, aka Cat Soup, is a 30-minute OVA from 2001. It’s about a family of cats who, while somewhat dysfunctional, live pretty normal lives in a pretty normal neighbourhood. And unfortunately, as was normal in the past and still fairly normal in some parts of the world, one of the children of the family, the girl, dies. Her brother, Nyatto, then sees Death carrying away his sister’s soul, and he runs after Death and manages to grab the soul.
And this is when the show goes from sad but normal to heartbreaking and bizarre. Nyatto’s sister, now in possession of only half her soul, comes back to life as a brain-dead zombie. To rectify this, Nyatto takes her on a journey to… I don’t exactly know. Maybe he’s trying to find the other half of her soul, or maybe he regrets not spending time with her before and tries to make himself feel better by taking her to a circus and to many other awe-inspiring places. In any case, what follows is a sequence of scenes that make extremely little sense if you’re trying to think about the setting as a physical place like the surface of the Earth or some other planet.
Because this is by far the most bizarre and demented of Masaaki Yuasa’s creations (he wrote the script and the storyboards, and he was responsible for Animation Direction), at least as far as I’ve seen. The story is not so much a story based on words (considering there’s basically no dialogue), but rather a series of pictures and symbols that flow into one another, and the characters move with the flow of the pictures. And the pictures are disturbing, and not necessarily due to shock value but due to the fact that they often evoke the feeling that something is wrong. The most obvious of these is the moment when an elephant made out of water appears in the middle of a desert. It’s kind of difficult not to see the cognitive dissonance there.
But I think the most impressive thing about the whole movie/OVA is the fact that it actually manages to tell a story almost completely without words, and without the limits of intuitive causality (not in that the story is highly achronological or anything, but in that the scene transitions don’t necessarily make intuitive sense) or laws of physics. The characters are cats, yes, and they don’t really express a lot of emotion (except for the mother cat), but there’s still that “human” side to it that makes it possible to feel sympathy or even empathy for the characters. I don’t know, maybe that’s not as difficult as I make it out to be, but I can say that I have seen shows that are much more “normal” but that I still can’t relate to emotionally.