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, January 23, 2009

01:48:43 am , 898 words, 11005 views     Categories: Animation, OVA, Indie

Cat Town

I really liked Elegy in Red, but having just had a chance to see another film in the Ga-nime series, Cat Town (2006), I'd now say that the latter is my favorite in the series. Cat Town strikes me as the film in the series that best fulfills the promise and the potential of the concept of this series: namely, animated films in which the still images, rather than movement, are the vehicle of expression. The other films in the series have explored the concept in various ways, from puppets to drawings to photographs to engravings (in this case), with varying degrees of success. The results have been hit and miss. Elegy in Red was one of the rare hits. But it's Cat Town that provided what I'd been wanting to see all along but hadn't seen in any of the other films in the series.

With its lush imagery and fantastical story narrated in a dreamy tone, Cat Town felt similar in style and tone to The Acorns and the Wildcat, an OVA from 1988 directed by Toshio Hirata in which a fantasy story by pre-war poet Kenji Miyazawa was narrated over subtly shifting but basically static background visuals. Cat Town has a similar storybook atmosphere as The Acorns and the Wildcat - but a hallucinogenic, unbalanced storybook for adults, with its hints of drug use and psychological disorder. It was originally published in 1935 by a famous poet named Sakutaro Hagiwara (it's his only novel) who was a contemporary of Kenji Miyazawa and shares something of his mystical sensibility. Hagiwara and Miyazawa are the two figures that immediately spring to my mind when I think of pre-war Japanese poets. They're both unique geniuses with their own inimitable sensibility and style, but they're also the two that seem to best represent the unique spiritual-poetic vibe of the era.

Cat Town is the story of a hallucinogenic experience Hagiwara had one night as he was wandering the streets of his home town. Drug use may have been involved, as he explicitly mentions (at least) cocaine. Rather than being a straightforward prose narrative with fantasy subject matter like Kenji's story, this is more of a metaphysical, symbolic mental journey in keeping with Hagiwara's main body of work. The narration of the gorgeous, poetic prose is packed with fascinating psychological sturm und drang that creates a dense web of mental images that are open to interpretation in any number of ways. The cascade of Hagiwara's observations and ruminations is perfectly mirrored by the beautiful engravings by Etsuko Kanaida, which strike me as always fully the equal of the great story that inspired them. The perfect tone of the narration and the subtle soundtrack combine with the images and words to create a well balanced whole that maintains a feeling of tension until the end - all without resorting to a single frame of animation.

I liked Cat Town not just because the prose is gorgeous and the images are pretty, although the artist who created the engravings, Etsuko Kanaida, certainly has a superb sensibility and the engravings are consistently sharp and imaginative creations. I liked it because few of the other films in the series succeed as well as this one in creating a continuous, strong audiovisual flow out of still images, which strikes me as being the salient thing in this series. Many of the other films in the series didn't seem to succeed in meeting the challenge posed by the whole 'still image' approach of the series, instead either merely stringing together still images in a way that doesn't maintain interest or adopting a conventional approach to structure and plugging still images into that structure. Cat Town struck me as differing in the sense that it created an actual narrative flow that arises from its constituent images. Each element is balanced, and the film hits a lulling, mesmerizing stride that carries you through to the end. Quite a feat for a film that is over 40 minutes long and consists entirely of a person reading a story to slow pans of still drawings.

The director to thank for this feat is Shojiro Urahama, who has apparently worked a lot on advertisements prior to this. The music was by Shogo Kaida, and the narration was by a great punk rocker-turned-novelist named Koh Machida. (I read a bunch of his books many years ago) As I mentioned above, the engravings were by Etsuko Kanaida. Each of these names deserve to be singled out, because they're each an indispensable part of the whole. Koh Machida's underplayed, low-rolling narration hits the perfect tone for the mellifluous but introspective prose he's reading, and the music is tasteful and beautiful without being too much in the foreground. But needless to say, the drawings are the most appealing part of the production, and are what hold your interest. Etsuko Kanaida's engravings were in fact obviously the reason this film got made. A few years back Etsuko Kanaida had published a picture book of engravings accompanying the story. The engravings were quite well received, and this film is the audiovisual version of that book. We've all heard of audiobooks, but a film like this goes the next conceptual step and makes an audiovisualbook, pushing beyond the rote, utilitarian purpose of an audiobook to create a work of art that works as an extension of the original on which it's based.



Bahijd [Visitor]  

Isn’t there any short scene from cat town…..I would like to see more that this picture on the top.

01/24/09 @ 11:13
Ben [Member]  

The Ga-nime official page has clips & pics for all volumes.

01/24/09 @ 12:54
bahijd [Visitor]  

Thanks Ben!
Ga-nime is great….I actually never heard about Ga-nime until you wrote about it.
Yoshitaka Amano is there too!!!

01/25/09 @ 04:41
Ben [Member]  

Yes, I mentioned Yoshitaka Amano in my first post.

01/25/09 @ 17:30
thatoneman [Visitor]  

I not sure if you know this but there are dvd iso’s of all the movies in the ga-anime series on AsianDVDClub. You better get them quick before the people seeding the torrents are no more.

03/18/09 @ 06:22