Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Friday, May 18, 2007

12:07:14 pm , 410 words, 1317 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

The Cat Who Walked by Herself

The Russians, more specifically Soyuzmultfilm, have made some of my all-time favorite animated features, to say nothing of some of the most beautiful animated shorts of all time. Aside from the famous shorts, they also happen to have seemingly limitless back-catalogue of other films that has been criminally neglected outside of that country. Even their less-known films offer a tremendous amount viewed today, with lots of variety in style and tone, so they deserve to be rediscovered. They're of consistently high caliber, and more often than not are more original and engaging than most fare I see being made today, particularly in terms of mass-consumption animation. Instead of slavishly following a bottom line and formula, they have a poetic sensibility and freedom with methods and forms that you don't find in any animated films anywhere else.

Jeff over at Hydrocephalicbunny talked about a new blog called Animatsiya that is devoted to talking about the films of Soyuzmultfilm. Animatsiya dug up a lost treasure that embodies what it is that I most like about foreign animation and Soyuzmultfilm's animation in particular - The Cat Who Walked By Herself, a 70-minute animated feature released in 1988 that for some reason I'd never heard of.

I started watching the film expecting to be able to turn it off after 5 minutes, only to find an hour later that I had watched the entire film right off despite having other things to do. It's quite simply one of the most entrancing, beautiful, lavishly animated and original animated films I've ever seen. It instantly ranks among my favorites. It was produced right before that sad period in Soyuzmultfilm's history when they were embroiled in lots of management troubles presumably somehow related to the country's woes that negatively affected the studio's creative work. It is one of their late masterpieces, and it's shocking that it's been buried all this time. The variety of the animation is breathtaking, and what's most amazing is that the quality doesn't drop over he length of the 70 minutes, despite the arduous and inventive nature of the animation. Normally a poetic film like this would be limited to 10 or 15 minutes, so I think it's quite an achievement that they managed to make a 70 minute adaptation hold up this well. The amazing soundtrack is by famed modernist composer Sofia Gubaidulina, and hugely benefits the film. I recall seeing her name once or twice in other Soyuzmultfilm shorts. A must see for anyone interested in animation



h_park [Member]

I just watched Petrov’s “Old Man and the Sea” and I can’t believe that I put aside this animation in favor of mainstream anime. You’re so right about Russian animation need to be rediscovered. Recently I saw “My Love” trailer from Ghilbi website, and I was literally drooling at the visual. It’s sad that Russia hasn’t put act together on their financial and copyright issues.
I have a question to everyone. What is the name of the animation that features a humpbacked pony and a boy? I remember
watching it when I was kid.

05/20/07 @ 02:38
Ben [Member]  

That would be Konek Gorbunok / The Humpbacked Horse. Precisely one of my favorite features I was thinking of. Another of my favorites is Wild Swans. The Lost Letter is a more obscure film but very well done and worth seeking out, and Sinyaya Ptitsa / The Blue Bird is another obscure film like Cat that nonetheless has a lot of interesting artistic experimentation going on and is worth seeing. Soyuzmultfilm has so much stuff like this buried that not enough people see…

The interesting thing about Old Man and the Sea is that it was a Japanese co-production. Along with doing lots of stuff for Yuri Norstein, Japan has seemingly of taken on the cause of Russian animation in recent years, supporting the greatest proponents like this.

05/20/07 @ 09:26
NeoTokyoLabyrinth [Visitor]  

I love anime and Russian animation equally. I have seen Yuri Norstein’s work on DVD (infact I wrote a review of Hedgehog in the Fog for my Literacy class), and I have a bit of the stuff waiting around in my youtube playlists. I know about The Cat who Walked by Herself, also Welcome (whic is based on a Dr. Seuss story) and The Old Man and the Sea. Norstein’s work is astounding, I love the poetry of it, the sight of that giant tree in HITF is beautiful.

05/24/07 @ 01:31
Niffiwan [Visitor]  

Hi there… thank you for spreading the word. This really became one of my favourite films after I watched it early this year, which is why I took on the somewhat insane task of translating it to English. I really wish there was a way to contact the director and tell her how great I think the film is. So many excellent scenes. Perhaps my favourite - both because of its power and what a complete surprise it is when you first watch the film - is the unbroken 5-minute aerial ride through different landscapes.

My favourite thing about the film is how so many non-animation elements are used to stunning effect; random reflections of light, blurs, things in the way. The image trully feels alive, rather than defined and controlled as it does in a typical animated film.

The hardest part of translating it by far was finding out all of the English names for those birds, butterflies, and flowers (there are quite a lot of them in the end).

And the conclusion of the rainbow scene was a bit of a struggle too; it ends with a rather clever Russian phrase which means “the whole wide world” AND “all the white light” at the same time. And of course, the point of the scene is to show that they really ARE both the same thing. I tried over a dozen phrases in English and finally settled on “the whole luminous world", which more-or-less encompasses both of the two Russian meanings.

For the record, “Animatsiya in English” is meant to be dedicated to all Eastern European & Soviet animation to some extent; basically, to anything that I think looks interesting from the region. Of course, Soyuzmultfilm was one of the most important studios…

Livejournal has a large community of Russian animators using it, so I thought it would be a nice place to start writing a blog like this.

There’s a lot of animation from Russia that is practically unknown in the English-speaking world, past as well as current, so it’s a good idea for someone to start bridging the gap, even a bit.

I’m working on some more translations currently, including one of this feature film (which was made in 1987 and is about equally obscure):

05/27/07 @ 01:56
Ben [Member]  

I’ve long thought that there was a need for fansubbers to appear and do for foreign animation what has already been done (overdone even) for Japanese animation. So I am really grateful for what you are doing - not only properly subbing great films, but bringing to light a masterpiece like this film that we over here would otherwise never have heard of, much less seen.

It shows the sorry state of affairs we’re in in terms of knowledge about animation in Russia and Eastern Europe that I didn’t even know about all those other studios you mention on your blog like Belarusfilm. So in addition to showing us some great films, I also think you’re doing a great service to the animation community by helping to take the first step to fill in the gap in knowledge about this region’s animation. There’s obviously so much to be said. So thanks for taking this initiative.

05/27/07 @ 13:12
Niffiwan [Visitor]  

Speaking of fansubbers… I don’t know if you’ve heard of it or not, but there’s a Swede in China who’s doing the same thing, except for Chinese animation. One of his recent projects (with help from many other people) has been subtitling “Princess Iron Fan", China’s first animated feature film (from 1941, public domain nowadays).

See here:

It’s a really interesting film, and not just from the historical perspective. Definitely worth a look.

I think it’s an absolutely wonderful idea to use a wiki for translating films. Maybe I should do something like that.

05/27/07 @ 21:41
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for pointing this out. No, I had not heard of it. That’s an unusual approach, using a Chinese script and getting little bits of translation from various people - but a great idea. Instead of giving up since he didn’t know the language, he went to all that trouble to get the translation done. I admire his tenacity. It’s great to see there are people around the world going to such lengths to sub obscure foreign classics.

I’ve seen a lot of Chinese animated features (unsubtitled, of course), but ironically Princess Iron Fan is still not one of them. I’ve heard good things about it, so I hope to get to see it.

Degrees of separation-wise, Princess Iron Fan isn’t unrelated to Japanese animation, since Princess Iron Fan was one of the films that had an influence on an impressionable young Osamu Tezuka…

I also noticed he’s done the same thing for one of my own favorite Chinese features, Uproar in Heaven, and is currently working on a script for a great early film by Te Wei, The Conceited General, which is fantastic. (By coincidence, the pic at the bottom of my earlier post on that Chinese book is from Conceited General.) I’ve seen Uproar in Heaven dubbed in French, so I already have a pretty good idea what’s going on moment-to-moment, but it’s a great film and it would be nice for it to be seen by more people in its original form.

05/28/07 @ 12:40
Niffiwan [Visitor]  

Some news… the film will be shown at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema @2:30pm, Sunday Nov. 22:

11/05/09 @ 22:20