It's the year 2010 on the planet of cats, where lies Meguro City, a megalopolis entirely controlled by the super-corporation Catty & Co. The nefarious influence of this corporate empire extends malignantly across the feline galaxy. Tamala, a carefree, one-year-old kitten, decides to flee this cruel reality and boards her spaceship in search of her planet of origin.
Tamala is an anime movie from 2002 animated mostly by 2 guys. It’s split between 2D flash animation and CG animation, shot entirely in black and white and all the characters are anthropomorphised animals. The story follows a cat called Tamala, who leaves Cat Earth and visits a rundown shithole planet so she can do whatever the hell she likes, farting about with her new wimpy hipster boyfriend.
The thing to understand about Tamala is that it’s a very artsy fartsy indie film. It’s a struggle to come up with comparisons in anime because it’s so different, but its directing style reminded me a lot of
2001 Space Odyssey. Reality is distorted. A lot is said without words, really drawing out certain scenes in order to hammer home the point. It’s a frying pan to the face method of metaphor-driven storytelling.
My problem with these kinds of stories is I seriously struggle to get engaged in the message when there’s a disconnect between the story and the secondary story told through the imagery. The way the story is told makes the meaning harder to grasp. Tamala doesn’t do this. The leading story about the ills of capitalism and corporations and marketing images is both the metaphor and the surface story. It just also happens to have a very unusual method of getting this message across which doesn’t exactly conform to reality.
Tamala, the lead cat character, is the face of the Catty and Co brand that own 99% of the earth and has turned it into this dreary place where it rains the whole time, surrounded by massive skyscrapers covered in advertisements for Catty and Co brandishing this cat as their logo. She is Hello Kitty, an all purpose logo character to put on everything they create. When she escapes to the rundown shithole planet, Catty and Co isn’t there, and she spends her time just living the dream. And by the ‘dream’ I mean doing whatever the fuck she wants with no paying heed to consequence.
It’s a very Rebel Without a Cause movie. Having the word ‘Punk’ in the title isn’t to just sound cool or anything. The things Tamala do are very destructive, spur of the moment decisions that have no sustainability. She’s rude to everyone and everything, damaging property and wasting money doing whatever she wants. There’s a rather alarming amount of English-language swearing in this too, on top of all the regular ‘kuso’ Japanese swearing. It’s not quite Panty and Stocking “Motherfucker, Fatherfucker” levels, but it’s the next best thing. It’s not about trying to appear hardcore or anything, which is why heavy swearing usually appears in entertainment. It’s about tying it into this punk-life attitude she has when she’s trying to get away from the corporation.
What’s interesting about the movie is that, while it’s critical of the capitalist machine, it doesn’t have much positive to say about anything else. The shithole planet is covered in dirt, the streets are full of dying bodies and prostitutes, and the police chief is a thug who keeps a lady mouse in his house as a prisoner so he can sexually violate her. When Catty and Co swings into town, ultimately nothing changes, except now the streets are covered in Catty and Co advertisements instead of graffiti.
The ultimate goal of Catty and Co was to create some sort of hive mind mentality of all the young people, following their lead and consuming Catty and Co products like zombies. The ultimate betrayal of that lifestyle is Tamala, their own logo. Anarchy and punk lifestyle is destructive and harmful, but it’s the only way she gains her individuality outside of being this logo. Throughout the movie she’s trying to get to Orion, where supposedly her real mother is before she was taken and starred as the logo. It represents this time before she lost that innocence, a bit like what Rosebud represents to Kane in Citizen Kane. Gosh, I’ve referenced 2001, Rebel Without a Cause and Citizen Kane in this post. I’m not trying to sound overly poncy, I swear! It’s just this is such a strange movie that I really have to delve into the back of my memories to come up with some other sort of touchstone to ground my thoughts.
Tamala doesn’t reach Orion. According to Wikipedia, the movie was planned as a trilogy, but they never made more. Not entirely surprised either, given that it was the strangest artsy film I’ve seen in a long, long time, and does have some serious issues, even accepting the bizarre way it tells its story and some of the eccentricities that come with that. There’s a terrible bollocks of a scene where the movie drops all attempts at at visual storytelling to instead have some old bloke sit on a coach and narrate for 20 minutes about what the point of the movie was. It was a real stupid scene and dragged it down several points in my estimation.
But I did like Tamala. Somehow the mood managed to grab me and send me into this weird psychedelic haze where I wanted to run outside in my underwear with a baseball bat, smash a billboard or two and yell ‘down with the man’. I think a large part of that was the music, which is one of the best I’ve ever heard. It’s like a cross between the Hotline Miami soundtrack and The Pillows, which to me is like some sort of glorious combination of my two favourite types of music in the world. Even taking my taste in music aside, it’s perfect for the tone of the movie and went a huge way to making the more pretentious, eccentric, slower parts of the movie tolerable.
Recommending Tamala is incredibly difficult, because I would have to know you as a person. I could see someone thinking it was the biggest load of pretentious artsy nonsensical bullshit ever, and I could see someone else thinking it was the most profound daring movie that captured a tone so perfectly that they thought it was the greatest thing ever, and I would totally understand where both sides are coming from. If you like artsy films, and are in the mood for something genuinely completely different from absolutely everything else out there, give Tamala a shot. At the very least, it’s worth it for the music.
"Tamala - Punk Cat in Space" is quite a trip, and for any who enjoy this genre, I highly recommend this anime.
Tamala is about a pretty little female Cat, Tamala, who sets off from Cat-Earth on a journey to get to her home planet where she was born, Orion. Along the way her spaceship is damaged and she lands on a Planet, where she meets a male cat Named Michelangelo(Though Tamala keeps calling him MoiMoi). The movie basically follows what happens while Tamala is on that planet.
At first the story sounds very simple, and the animation style can trick an individual into
thinking its an anime for younger audiences. That is far from the case. Despite its initial appearence, Tamala has loads of adult themes in it and there are deeper mysteries behind the plot. The biggest of these mysteries is "Who/What exactly is Tamala? Who is the Robot in the dream sequences in the movie?" There are other mysteries too, many concerned with the omnipresent Catty & Co. company that dominates the commercial/political universe of Tamala.
As I said before, don't let the art decieve you. As a matter of fact, though many seem to be put off by the simplistic art style, I think that for this movie it fits nicely because it lends beautifully to the Surreality of the atmosphere. Add to this the fact that there are spots in the movie that suddenly shift from the standard, simplistic style to CG rendered hyper reality, and it completes the formula that makes this movie such a strange and interesting journey.
Unfortunately I didn't really notice anything special about the sound, though it didn't seem to detract from the movie either. There is one song that recurs at multiple points in the movie that has an ethereal sound to it. I thought it was okay.
The character development was very well done for a 1.5 hour movie. Tamala comes across as a very spicy character despite her youthful appearence and childish way of speaking. That too is part of the surreality. Tamala speaks like a small child in the way she pronounces her words and phrases her sentences, like at one point in the movie when she says he has to go to the bathroom. She uses the japanese word a child would use, kinda like a little kid telling his parents he has to make pee-pee. But then there are times where she says some really adult things in this childish tones, even dropping the f-bomb(in english, mind you). This uneven matching of innocence and maturity makes Tamala an interesting character.
The supporting characters come across very nicely too. Michelangelo has a common-sense, mellow feel to him, and it's cute at times to watch his growing attachment to his new friend Tamala. Kentarou comes across well as being the mean jerk he is, though even he is shown to be a human character in the end.
I gave this a little lower scoring because of the fact that it took me a good half hour of thinking "what in the world am I watching, and why?" before the pieces started to fall together sufficiently to get me interested. The harsh language/content matter combined with the simplistic style almost threw me off. Once I started to get interested, though, I enjoyed this movie thoroughly. Other than that My only real complaint is that the movie seemed to end on to much of an open note for me.
Overall I really enjoyed this movie and hope that others manage to find it and give it a good shot.
To sum up this film in one word, I would say "jarring." From the themes, imagery, characters, music... It's a very unique piece.
First off, the music was AMAZING and easily my favorite part about this movie. I want to say the animation is lack luster, but considering it was only two people working on it, it's passable. I think this story would have done a bit more justice if it was polished a bit more.
It's a shame the other two were never made. As a stand alone, it doesn't quite appease anyone who's hoping for a conclusive ending. You also have to
be in a punk mindset because Tamala is rejecting her non-consensual symbolism to just live as she pleases. It give a big screw you to capitalism and two party politics (the cat and dog party), which is always a plus. Tamala wants to own herself and refuses to let anyone take that away from her. She's desensitized, and oddly both naive and visceral due to her surroundings.
I think the biggest downfall of this movie is the background information dump near the end. I was hoping to get this in pieces throughout the movie rather than a single character explain it to you. (This character happens to be the same individual as Tamala's boyfriend.) You get the whole postal service cult narrative shoved down your throat as soon as you are starting to piece things together.
Overall I would recommend to watch this just once if only for the novelty. It's a mind trip that could be much greater, but still has nuggets to be thought provoking and a conversation piece.
I learned of _Tamala_ from Anime Year by Year's 2002 entry (archived at http://archive.today/bm4So), which describes the work thus:
"Unbeknownst to her, she is genetically engineered to remain eternally young by the conglomerate Catty & Co., formerly the clandestine cult of Minerva, so that she can be used for advertising purposes. Even after she is killed mid-film by a pedophilic dog police officer, she remains 'immortal' with her face plastered over all of Meguro Ward, Tokyo in ads for cigarettes, matchboxes, and other consumables. One of her flings, a cat named Michelangelo (calling himself Professor Nominos later in the film), views the logographic Tamala in the
same way Oedipa Maas does the muted post horn in Lot 49 and starts giving lectures on her hidden significance. To anyone who enjoys Pynchon's novels, this winding and nonsensical plotline won't be a deterrent. Tamala does a great job at capturing the essential elements of his art: conspiracy theories that go nowhere, riffing on the emptiness of semiotics (Tamala represents anything and everything to her observers a la the post horn in Lot 49), postmodern obsession with holocaust and atrocity (Tamala's only wish is to return to her home planet of Orion, origin of the massacre). Moreover, the cyclical structure common in the postmodern novel is contained in Minerva's belief that Tamala is their god Tatla: "Why can't Tamala die?" The reason is now visible. Tamala must live forever, the everlasting cycle of Destruction and Rebirth with Tamala as the centerless center - the icon of Death and Resurrection - must be retained so that Catty & Co. may continue to expand its network of conspiracy and worldwide capitalism...I also appreciated the unconventional B&W coloration and 1960's OST, and the use of Flash, far from being distracting, fits with irreverent attitude of the film's protagonist; naturally, a true punk anime shouldn't use the normal means of production. Many adaptations lazily copy the text of the original work. Tamala distinguishes itself by reproducing the spirit of Pynchon's work while grounding it in a fundamentally different context. Though the film alienated many of its viewers (the lengthy monologue towards the end is usually cited as a sticking point), I found Tamala to be a complete success thematically and an ideal example of avant garde animation."
Intrigued, I checked it out. My impression was less favorable.
I started off favorably inclined, as the artwork beckoned back towards the forgotten era of hyper-kinetic deformed black-white animation, before Disney's hegemony, and any revival gets kudos from me. The Pynchon paranoid mood also was OK with a number of creepy elements buried in the urban background (the giant robotic advertisements being a good example). Slowly, the artwork begins to wear as the sheer repetitiveness and minimalism and slow pans and static camera and unimaginative gray-scale coloring shows it's not some East Asian/Kubrickian esthetic, it's just low-budget cheapness. (I may like Flash animation well enough for short, but *92 minutes* of it?)
The paranoid mood in fiction is exhausting, and to a great extent, depends on the payoff because you're setting up a mystery: what is really going on, or is the protagonist just crazy? _Tamala_ suffers from dwelling on a topic of little interest to us: the slow decay into riots of the random city (heavily reminiscent of _Taxi Driver_'s NYC - lots of casual violence, prostitutes, etc) she wanders into. Other choices alienated me (what was the point of the mouse sex-slave?) or irritated me as much as the art (Tamala only speaks in an immature monotone, no matter what she is describing or saying). We ultimately do get the whole framework laid out, in a single gigantic infodump at the end, as AYY alludes to. Infodumps usually indicate a failure of writing, and _Tamala_'s infodump is no exception: it comes too late for me to care, and when laid out baldly like that, my reaction is more "huh?" The plot... I don't even... well, I can't say I've seen *that* in worldbuilding before, so it definitely has novelty.
The work ends abruptly after the monologue and from Wikipedia, it seems they had intended to complete the return of Tamala to Orion and come up with a real ending, but that has not happened and so (given it's an obscure work from 12 years ago now) the viewer will be perpetually in suspense as to the rest of Tamala's story. I'm willing to put up with weak entries in a series if the rest delivers, but unfortunately _Tamala_ has to be judged on its own.
So, definitely unusual, definitely avant garde and experimental, but not much of a success. I don't regret watching it but it's probably best for those who want novelty and have run through most of the usual suspects in anime.