Cat Soup (2003) Movie Review

Tatsuo Sato’s “Cat Soup” is an odd brew. And because it’s such a short experiment in bizarre visuals, giving this 30-minute movie a grade becomes a problem. It’s much too short to be properly judged, feeling more like a 30-minute episode of a long serial rather than the only volume of a movie. Even the ending seems to set up a sequel, although I don’t know if one is presently in the works.

Written and directed by Tatsuo Sato, the short animation concerns a boy cat (a kitty, I guess you’d call him) that goes on a quest to recover his sister’s lost soul. Or something to that affect.

The thing is, it’s mostly a crapshoot as to what the heck “Cat Soup” is actually about. And while the short offers up dialogue by way of dialogue balloons ala the pages of a comic book, unfortunately these offerings are in Japanese, and the version of the movie I saw came with no subtitles. Then again, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because much of “Cat Soup” is meant to be visceral and instinctive, and not ponderous. It is, first and foremost, a movie built to be “read” through its visuals.

Technically speaking, “Cat Soup” uses more traditional animation than one is used to in this day and age of CGI. The quality ranges from superb cel animation to what looks like rushed hand drawings. They’re all quite spectacular, in a “am I on drugs or is it just this movie?” sort of way. Like some painting, “Cat Soup” unfolds quickly and soon the cat siblings are lost in an outlandish landscape where anything and everything can happen, and actually does.

“Cat Soup” has often been described as “Hello Kitty on acid”, and that’s a good of a description as any I’ve heard. It’s certainly not very traditional in many ways, and if one was of a mind to do so, I’m certain many of the short’s oddball situations and characters can be dissected and translated into something meaningful. At just 30 minutes, there’s not a lot here to waste, so everything that appears should be taken as being meaningful. That is, if one was so incline to read that much into a short animation about a cat boy and a cat girl.

Along the way, a God-like figure shows up to play with time. I guess we can read into this that God is mysterious, but often not in the ways we think he is. As the landscape gets flooded and iced and turned into desert and fall off cosmic edges, we can read that the world we know is nothing more than a small, insignificant cog in one of God’s many machines. And under his complete mercy, our world is to be sped up, rewind, or pause at his whim. And God’s whims, according to “Cat Soup”, are just as petty as us mere mortals. Then again, I could be completely off the mark.

Of course the above is just one flippant reading of “Cat Soup”. I’m sure those with more experience translating dreams will fare much better. After all, “Cat Soup” is really one big 30-minute trippy dream.

A word of caution, though: “Cat Soup” is not for children. While the two main cat characters are cute and cuddly, there are some bloody and very mature moments. At one point, a woman gets cut into pieces by a giant spinning blade. In general, Limbs are being lopped off on a daily basis throughout the short. The dismemberings are not too graphic as to be disgusting, but they can be a bit disturbing for younger viewers.

The cats may look darn cute, but the short is not for minors.

Tatsuo Sato (director) / Tatsuo Sato (screenplay)


Buy Cat Soup on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Ngan Phan

    Cat soup is freaky as it is a remarkable film in animation. The art is memorable, and the story is profound and morbid.

  • http://n/a Ngan Phan

    Cat soup is freaky as it is a remarkable film in animation. The art is memorable, and the story is profound and morbid.

  • Kendalle

    The writer of this article, I’m sorry to say, not only missed many integral marks but hardly made an attempt to read the film and recognize genius where recognition is due. Cat Soup, in Modernist tradition (and post-modern symbolism) exploits its medium of animation to achieve a means of allegorical, and then primordial story-telling. It is the first actual omnipotent glimpse of a world I have ever been given as an avid film-viewer. The visuals are loaded, yes, but the lack of dialogue and narration encourage the viewer to see all the incidental, cause-and-effect microcosms that exist in real life, free of narrator-inspired bias. And because the drawings, or symbols, though recognizable and readable, engage in codes we are not culturally programmed to read, we are viscerally encouraged to indulge in the many facets of the possible in this short but pointed animation. We are placed in a meditative state by merit of not having the language to describe what we are subject to. Most importantly, the animation is utterly un-pretentious, though by no means easy to read in a culture which believes so avidly in interpreting–that is, “post-modernism” and the Western world in general.

  • Kendalle

    The writer of this article, I’m sorry to say, not only missed many integral marks but hardly made an attempt to read the film and recognize genius where recognition is due. Cat Soup, in Modernist tradition (and post-modern symbolism) exploits its medium of animation to achieve a means of allegorical, and then primordial story-telling. It is the first actual omnipotent glimpse of a world I have ever been given as an avid film-viewer. The visuals are loaded, yes, but the lack of dialogue and narration encourage the viewer to see all the incidental, cause-and-effect microcosms that exist in real life, free of narrator-inspired bias. And because the drawings, or symbols, though recognizable and readable, engage in codes we are not culturally programmed to read, we are viscerally encouraged to indulge in the many facets of the possible in this short but pointed animation. We are placed in a meditative state by merit of not having the language to describe what we are subject to. Most importantly, the animation is utterly un-pretentious, though by no means easy to read in a culture which believes so avidly in interpreting–that is, “post-modernism” and the Western world in general.

  • Matt

    I think the way that the article’s writer on one hand reasons that because the film is so short, visually fluid and dense symbolically it must be meaningful, but then makes it obvious that he/she doesn’t care to decipher the film and doesn’t expect anyone else to just because the characters are cats and the ~3 lines in the film are japanese, is cheap.

    If the film is short but you care to understand the art you can watch it twice. It’s not that hard to decipher.

    On the other hand, if you just don’t care all that much, that’s fine too. But let someone else write review.

    p.s. from a fan: If you need a clue, it was written as a message to the director’s wife who committed suicide. He was trying to say there’s beauty in the world while at the same time accepting that there’s also a lot of cruelty and sadness, and that he wished he could have shown her the beauty and saved her from her depression. This is exactly what the main character tries to do, although in the end they all cease to exist anyways, just like in the end she killed herself (anyways). That’s the gist of it, at least.

    p.p.s He uses cats because she used to be an animator for her show in which the characters were cats. The cats were assholes and animals ate each other in the show. After she killed herself a friend of her said the cartoon was supposed to be her critique of society.