Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Anime DVDs You May Have Missed: “Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space”

Japanese Title: Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space
Publisher: Kinétique/Amuse (Japan)
Format: Region 2 DVD, NTSC, Japanese with some French and Mandarin Dialogue with optional English subtitles
Length: 92 minutes
Production Date: 2002
English Version Release Date: 23 May 2003
Currently in Print (as of writing): No

Note: Originally published on the "Anime Archivist" blog April 2014, based on a review originally written for and published on "" in June 2003.

With advent of DVD, a small number of early Japanese releases contained English subtitles or an English dub. As you can imagine most of these titles were previously released in English, with most already available on DVD in the west. However there were a few films that had only toured the film festival circuit with no English language release in sight. Luckily in a few of those cases, Japanese distributors had the foresight to transfer the English subtitled script on to the DVD. In a few rare cases, some of these films never, ever made to the west and the Japanese DVD releases were the only way you could see these films legitimately in English. “Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space” was one of these films. Though it’s quite an odd and somewhat experimental film, I always assumed that someone like Central Park Media would have ended up releasing it. They had already released a similar title, “Cat Soup (Nekojiru-So)”, though that title was far more surreal and arty than “Tamala” . In the end no western video distributor took the opportunity to release the film in English, which I always thought was quite surprising.

It’s quite hard to give a rundown of the film’s contents, but I’m going to have a go anyway; In the year 2010 in an alternate universe inhabited by cats called the Feline Galaxy, we meet Tamala, a childish one-year-old cat who lives in Megalo City in Tokyo on Cat Earth. After awakening she reads a post card which has just turned up in the mail. She then immediately heads off to the Orion star system in her spaceship. Her space ship breaks down but the galactic version of the NRMA arrive to help her out. Unfortunately the break down service is attacked by the Dark God of Death, a ghost like creature in space. Tamala has no option but to fix her spacecraft herself. The Dark God of Death tries to abduct her, but she manages to scare him off by merely by making eye contact and saying “hi”. By this point in the film it’s obvious that Tamala isn’t a normal cat. Resuming her journey, Tamala is contacted by her “human mother” (who always appears with an anaconda wrapped around her). The human mother orders her to return home, but Tamala just insults her and terminates the transmission. The human mother retaliates by covertly sending a Catty & Co. cat mailman out to spy on her and to foil her plans. The mailman shoots a meteor from his ship to disable her ship, and Tamala ends up hurtling towards Planet Q.

After being welcomed to the planet by a bird, Tamala spies a car driven by a young male cat called Michelangelo. Tamala practically forces him into giving her a ride into the nearest city; Hate, a very violent and seedy town where half the population is dogs and the other half cats. The pair soon become friends, even though she continually calls Michelangelo “Moimoi” much to his disgust. Although jobless and seemingly spiraling into debt, Michelangelo takes Tamala out to see the sights if his town. They shop, go to night clubs, go bowling and make a trip to the Extinct Animal Museum. While trying to find the toilet in the museum, Tamala wanders into an area which has been in a state of neglect and disrepair for a number of years. Here she sees a tapestry of what seems to be a depiction of “cat hell” with a depiction of the constellation Orion in its centre. In another room she discovers a damaged statue of a robot cat called Tatla. Tamala has dreams of this giant robot cat, slowly descending a giant escalator in a city. Later that night Michelangelo end up in rave where Tamala seemingly becomes the centre of attention. The crowd and even Michelangelo begin to shout “Tamala” and “Minerva” as if in a trance. Later that evening at an observatory, Tamala explains to Michelangelo that she received a postcard telling her that her birth mother was still alive in the Orion star system. Previously the only clue she had to the origins of her birth was a piece of cardboard advertising trips to Orion, which was inside the box she was in when her human mother received her.

The next day Michelangelo and Tamala are in the city preparing to go out for a picnic. A police officer dog named Kentauros spots them and takes an immediate interest in Tamala. In previous scenes, we discover Kentauros is a very seedy dog who likes keeps a mouse named Penelope against her will in a cage. He often sexually tortures her in various ways and takes Polaroid photos of his handiwork. His other hobbies seem to include riding around town on his bike with his gay boyfriend and beating the living daylights out of people on the street. Kentauros decides to follow Tamala and Michelangelo out to the countryside. Once there, the couple head for a nearby waterfall and lake for their picnic. Whilst the couple are enjoying the peace and quiet, Kentauros runs from his hiding place and chases both of them down. Michelangelo manages to escape, but Tamala isn’t as lucky. He watches on in terror as Kentauros seems to kill and eat Tamala. Shaken, Michelangelo returns to the city, but things seem to get weirder. Catty & Co., the dominant company in the universe, seemingly have taken over the entire planet, plastering advertisements for their products everywhere. Most of the adverts feature images of Tamala. Young children are having strange dreams about the giant robot cat Tatla, and Michelangelo seems to be having hallucinations. One night a maggot infested zombie cat knocks on Michelangelo’s door asking for milk. Letting him inside, the cat (seemingly the same cat, a Professor, seen in a previous scene set 22 years in the future), tells him the secret of Tamala, her connections to the giant corporation Catty & Co., and a religion named Minerva.

See? Told you so. At times it’s pretty hard to make heads or tails (no pun intended) of this film. However one thing you can’t deny is that the movie’s style is quite unique. Apart from a handful of CG shots and a couple of computer processed live action shots, all of it is in black in white and is in the style of early 1960’s anime. While the design is obviously modern it does have a real 1960’s retro feel to it, very much in the style of “Astroboy”, “Wonder 3”, “Big X” and other Osamu Tezuka anime of that period. As you’d expect Tamala’s animation isn’t as primitive as those old shows, and is mostly 2D digitally animated and coloured, apparently using Adobe Flash. The Tatla sequences on the other hand are digitally animated in full 3D animation. While you would think the two styles wouldn’t mesh together well in this film, somehow it seems to work. But being more than a decade and a half old, the computer graphics now look somewhat aged though some of the shots still look pretty good, especially the city skyline and sky.

Before I delve deeper into the film, I want to talk about the creators behind this weird film; t.o.L, or trees of Life, are credited with just about all aspects of production including the story, screenplay, and character design (with designs by Kentaro Nemoto as well). t.o.L also created the music. Though most of the film’s promotional material credit t.o.L as being K and Kuno, the credits on the “Tamala 2010” album sound soundtrack reveal that K is Kei Saito and Kuno is Makiko Kuno (I’m assuming she’s not the model/B-movie actress that appeared in “XX: Beautiful Hunter”, but gosh, they do look a little bit similar…). trees of Life were actually a 1990’s rock group whose only claim to fame seems to be a appearance on X Japan front man hide’s “Lemoned” project (a compilation six track EP and video concert – see here for t.o.L’s performance in the video and their music video here) in 1996. As you’d expect from a project created by musicians, the music is where this project shines with t.o.L creating many varied styles of music for the film such as very up-tempo house music to dreamy guitar and vocal pieces, funk-rock and alternate garage band songs. With all of the varied instrumentation on the soundtrack, I suspect the duo called upon a lot of favours from fellow musicians to help them out. Their track on the “Lemoned” EP, “One Day for Maria”, was re-recorded for the end theme for this film.

As I may have mentioned a few times, this is quite a surreal and bizarre film. It seems to start out as some sort of sarcastic and surreal black comedy, like a feral, subversive “Hello Kitty” , but heads into David Lynch territory about one hour into the film. It got a little too weird for me at some stages, but it’s surreal humour was something that really appealed to me. For example at one point early on in the film, a giant Colonel Sanders-like robot with an axe stuck in the middle of his forehead is seen walking though Megalo City advertising Catty & Co. meat. The film gets even weirder and nonsensical from that point onwards with the story seemingly aimless at times. Besides the fact that Tamala is heading to Orion to find her birth mother, there really doesn’t seem to be a plot of any sort as such. That is until the zombie cat who pays a visit to Michelangelo blurts out most of it within a couple of minutes. But what is the film really about? Is it some sort of statement about mega-corporations and globalisation? Or is it a comment on organised religion? Or is just bizarre for bizarreness sake? Apparently t.o.L let slip in an interview that the story is based upon Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 novel “The Crying of Lot 49” which similarly features a cult who are operating as a postal service and corporate monopoly. Even with that knowledge, it’s still a difficult film to decipher what it’s real meaning is, if any. But despite the movie’s surreal nature, it is quite enjoyable. I find it works best if you don’t look for hidden meanings and not take it too seriously.

I suppose with the film seemingly lacking a plot for most of its length, it’s surrealism doesn’t quite fill the void where the story should be. So as you’d expect, the film does have a couple of shortcomings. The major problem is that the animation is a little cheap looking. There are a number of repeated animation shots and designs which the animators try to hide, but it is noticeable and a little distracting at times. The other problem is that there are probably a few too many characters jammed into the film, with some of them there only for one gag or scene. I did however like the two transvestite cats who sat the bar waiting for their prefect man. Their main purpose is to fill the viewer in on the city called Hate, but their conversation provides a lot of the film’s humour outside Tamala’s antics. The most probable reason for the over abundance of characters is that this film was supposedly the first in a trilogy. “Tamala in Orion” and “Tatla” were never made, and a planned TV series “Tamala in Space” (a clip of the pilot film appears on this DVD) also never materialised. However a DVD called “Tamala on Parade” was released in 2007 with two short films (“Tamala on Parade” and “Tamala’s Wild Party”) and as part of NHK’s “Save the Future” programme another short was broadcast in 2010 called “Wake Up!! Tamala”. Other than the various animation projects, there’s was an ongoing manga series and a bunch of merchandise ranging from Kubrick figures to a bicycle. The over merchandising also extended to the DVD release of the film which came in three versions; a regular and two limited versions, one set limited to 5,000 copies and the second limited to 2,000. Each came with various t-shirts, posters and figures, but a lot of the physical extras look rather cheap. The limited editions aren’t exactly what I’d call value for money.

Overall this is one very odd little film. I would say that due to the style of the film, and that it was promoted in magazines such as the Japanese editions of Vouge and Elle it’s obviously not aimed at anime fans. I suspect t.o.L’s main aim was to merchandise the crap out of Tamala to sell to a Japanese hipster-type audience. There’s some evidence to this with the film being littered with material that crowd might dig. For example there’s two references to vintage jeans in the film, French actress Béatrice Dalle (Betty in “Betty Blue” aka “37°2 le matin”) voices the CG robot cat Tatla in French for some unknown reason, and there are references to other films such as “The Shining”. While the film really is style over substance to large degree, it mostly succeeds at being a piece of enjoyable entertainment. While it’s probably not a shining example of animation, personally I think it’s great that people are still willing to take a chance to do something experimental with animation, especially those outside the animation industry. Check it out if you’re willing to try something completely different from most commercial anime that’s available out there.

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