Tamala 2010: A Punk cat in Space
This film was available as part of the, rather excellent, Melbourne international film festival 2004. They normally have a couple of bits of anime, which this year was dominated by a Ghibli retrospective. Which is cool, of course, but not new for me. Thankfully it also had this, a title sort of unlikely to set the fan community aflame.
The film opens with a legend, in English on screen but helpfully subtitled in English as well, which is confusingly cryptic. We then cut to a wonderfully rendered train track through an improbable and over detailed city while some guy talks about the endless rain that depresses the spirits of all within the city. Then we cut to a iconic cat figure getting out of bed. She decides it's time to leave her human mother (and the anaconda she wears) and return to her true home in Orion. So she climbs into her rocket ship and blasts off.
Landing on planet Q, which is governed by the dogs and a pretty violent place, she runs into a cat called Michaelangelo (who she calls MoiMoi) and they basically hang out together. The environment is pretty negative, quite a lot of violence and a little depravity, but Tamala (the cat) seems distressingly well suited to it. However it becomes clear that the mega-corporation catty-co is involved, it seems they're a front for something more sinister, and Tamara is a part of the puzzle, even though she has no idea of her own origins or any real goal other than reaching Orion.
The synopsis above is largely irrelevant. There's basically two reasons for this. The first being that, despite this being a 90 minute movie, this film is only the opener. It doesn't come to any sort of meaningful conclusion, in fact the entire movie is basically a sidetrack. The second is more important, this is an art movie and as such the plot can safely be regarded as either incidental or accidental.
Apparently this title is created by an artists group called t.o.L or Trees of Life. I have no idea of what position they occupy in the Japanese cultural firmament, nor do I really care. But what it does mean is that this isn't really anime, its modes of expression are not particularly influenced by the practices or visual language that anime has developed. It owes more to graphic arts, with Tamala herself looking like an animated trademark more than anything else, and as such is curiously culture neutral. Advertising, the largest consumer of graphic arts, is surprisingly universal.
The other thing is that it is clearly the creation of multiple people working at least somewhat independently. The story and the imagery have a really broken flow and structure. In fact the confused story really sounds like a bunch of people, on illicit substances, making it up as they go along. The most obvious however is that there are two distinct visual styles. There is some computer graphics which is lovingly rendered at some monstrous resolution, but which as can be expected is clearly restricted in what it can represent. They spent so much time building the model that it doesn't actually end up doing much. This is intermixed with Tamala herself who is pretty clearly created on computer using some 2-D animation program (Mike Toole actually suggests flash, but I noticed an adobe credit) with a very flat symbolic style. To say that these two styles don't meld, despite the best efforts of the story, should go without saying.
In fact it's fairly obvious that they couldn't even get the Tamala style animation to do everything they wanted. Many of the depicted events, while visually interesting, don't actually have much connection to the story. Which means that the story itself has to be delivered in a couple of huge spans of straight dialog with little visual interest. Although to be honest this might just be filling time. It's pretty clear that they underestimated how much work a 90 minute movie took so they're pretty parsimonious with their actual animation. For example two slutty cats, talking in a cafe and represented in silhouette, seem primarily intended just to waste time. It might well be that they picked the duration, in order to be taken as a serious movie, and then wondered how to fill it.
So, is it any good? Fortunately, being a public screening, I seem blessed with a person sitting next to me to summarise it. It happened in 1001 nights when the couple beside me realized that archaic and erotic don't really add up. The woman beside me in this one discovered she was intensely bored, tapping her feet, getting up to leave at any fade in the hopes it was over, and giving her partner the occasional "what the hell is this?" whispers. And she was sort of right, this really is a pretty damn boring film. There are some moments of entertainment, generally when the visually cutesy and artificial looking Tamala does something human, such as swear or get a tattoo, but they're pretty rare. Meanwhile 90 minutes is quite long, and much of the rest of the content, and the story, is not really that interesting.
On the other hand I'm easily amused. If you're laid back enough you can sort of go into `idle' mode and let your brain occupy itself trying to fill up the gaps. And it has enough moments of juxtaposition to keep you moderately entertained. I really wouldn't recommend it to normal people though, only those very tolerant of fringe animation need bother, and even then it's more `mildly interesting' than something to really care about. The fact is that compared to normal anime which can be wildly creative and entertaining, and look decent at the same time, this loses out. It's also possible the creators were just doing things poorly and being cheap about it, in which case they're wasting everyone's time and I'd rate it as burnable. But I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and assume they thought they were making something terribly original but didn't execute it that well.
As mentioned before the visual style is not particularly anime at all. The vast majority of the movie is animated, barely, using some 2D mechanism. Even 3D events, such as Tamala twirling, are visibly a sequence of 2D images rather than smooth motion, and the camera is almost entirely static. Detail is low, shapes are basic, colors are extremely simple and subdued. It's pretty boring really. If you've seen South Park then that's probably the closest equivalent, although technically South Park is probably more advanced. The 3D computer animation is nicely rendered, visually repetitive and doesn't really take up that much screen time. The voices are alright but since the dialog is fairly flat they don't have much to work with. Incidental sound is basic and Tamala's `squeak' sound on every step really started to grate. The music is not too bad, possibly by another member of the t.o.L collective, but didn't really have much connection to what was on screen.
A Japanese artists collective make an arty movie that only people into arty movies need to bother with, and even they shouldn't expect too much. For the normal anime fan you can probably safely ignore this title, while there's tiny bits of cleverness they're not nearly common enough to make up for the other 90 minutes of disorganised, and ultimately rather tedious, elements. Tamala, the iconic and sometimes foul-mouthed main character, is really the only interesting bit and that could be summarised in about 2 minutes.