Friday, August 3, 2012

Animated Short of the Day: "She and Her Cat" (Makoto Shinkai, 1999)

Animated Short of the Day is an ongoing series showcasing short cartoons from every possible genre, era, and format. For an archive of the films previously featured, click here. To suggest cartoons for future installments, email me or contact me on Twitter.

I'm pleased to announce the first-ever guest writer here at Zeppo Marxism. Today's short was suggested by Noel Kirkpatrick. Noel is a very active TV writer who has co-founded two terrific websites - Monsters of Television and This Was Television. He was also one of the very first friends I ever made on Twitter, and you can follow him here.

Since Noel knows far more about this film (and about anime in general) than I do, I asked him to share some thoughts on "She and Her Cat." Even though I once failed him by abandoning Cowboy Bebop after eight episodes, he graciously agreed.  I just watched the cartoon for the first time yesterday, so I'll offer my reactions following his comments.


She and Her Cat is Makoto Shinkai’s first film, a brief short about, well, a woman and her male cat, Chobi. The story is told entirely from Chobi’s perspective and traces a brief portion of his life with the nameless She (and a brief dalliance with an eager young kitten named Mimi).

The short, sold by Shinkai at cons and through the mail in 1999, is...gently animated, more a series of still lifes edited together than anything else. While this may strike some as crude or even typical of anime and its use of limited animation techniques, it fits the film’s perspective from that of a cat, for whom days blend together save for changes in the season, and fits the film’s elegiac tone.

The stillness of She and Her Cat helps convey the routineness and smallness of She’s life in her tiny apartment, with Chobi being the one bright spot (consider that we rarely see She outside compared to Chobi exploring during the summer) in her world by the end after a disastrous but unknown phone call (“This world, I think we like it.”)

She and Her Cat sets the tone for Shinkai’s future films, Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. Shinkai is obsessed with the struggle to maintain, re-establish, or move past lost connections (he loves phones of all types), and we see the kernels of that theme here in She and Her Cat.

You likely haven’t heard of Makoto Shinkai, and that’s perfectly okay. Unlike Hayao Miyazaki or even Satoshi Kon, Shinkai hasn’t broken through into the American cinematic scene, be it at your megaplex or your local arthouse (if you even have one). But I hope you enjoy this short from one of anime’s upcoming talents and voices.

Thanks, Noel!

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not much of an anime fan in general, by which I mostly mean that I don't have much interest in anything outside of Studio Ghibli. It's a bias that I'm trying to overcome, and watching films like this lovely little gem will help me achieve that goal.
Right away, I was intrigued by the calm, measured quality of the narrator's voice (performed by Shinkai himself, if my online research can be trusted). Given the title and the brief running time, I should have assumed that it was the cat, but it didn't even occur to me. I gasped out loud at that reveal, and here's why: Shinkai's dialogue - and his delivery - very effectively portray the relationship between the two characters as a loving, adult partnership between equals. 

When it turns out that he's actually her pet, the reversal of expectations is made even more shocking by Chobi's abstract design. It's almost unthinkable that such complex thoughts could be contained in such a simple, crudely-rendered figure.

The details that Chobi notices about She are exquisitely drawn, revealing the extent to which his world revolves around her. In a way, those sequences reminded me of Pixar's Toy Story. She, like Andy, seems to have no idea that she's being worshipped by her housemate. But Chobi notices everything she does. Even when he's with Mimi, She is his entire world. And her heartbreak becomes his moment of greatest triumph when she turns to him for comfort. It's sad and realistic and peculiarly beautiful.

So Shinkai's other movies are a lot like this, huh? I should get on those.


Noel said...

I recommend Voices of a Distant Star and 5 Centimeters Per Second. (I wasn't crazy about The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and I haven't seen Children Who Chase Lost Voices yet.)

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