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.