Nice Cats (1995)

Lately I've been delving into the fascinating and awful world of Mockbuster animation. Extremely low budget rip-offs of Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks films. When it comes to trash cinema, something about this stuff seems sleazier than exploitation. Taking advantage of the ignorance of kids and the ambivalence of parents. The first example I decided to explore is this extremely crude mock-up of The Aristocats awkwardly titled "Nice Cats" ('Artige Katzen' in German).

Mrs. Mcdonald is taking her three cats on vacation to Acapulco. Lauren, the mother cat and her two kittens Lucy and Lionel. It's worth noting that it's they live in San Francisco, I did the math and it's 2,400 miles. That's quite the road trip. By the end of a generic incidental casio jingle, they're in Acapulco and immediately Lucy is getting the itch to wander. Mrs. Mcdonald warns all the cats that there's talk of a cat catcher on the prowl so to stay near the estate. Lucy runs off anyway and gets herself catnapped.

"Bunny Fashion"

"I Love Cats"

In cat jail she meets a stray named Charlie, they work together to plan an escape. Lucy plays dead to distract the cat catcher long enough to bite his bunghole.

By the time they get back to the estate Mrs. Mcdonald has taken the two cats and gone back to San Francisco, an ass move if I ever saw one. So now they have to travel all 2,400 miles on foot, Encountering different animals and humans along the way who help.

The plot is inconsequential. From the onset of the first frame you know that you're in for something truly horrific. One of the strangest companies to piggy back the success of Disney, the German based "Dingo Pictures" is responsible for other atrocities such as 'The Dalmations'  (101 Dalmations), 'Toys' (Toy Story), 'Countryside Bears' (Winnie the Pooh), and the one I'm the most excited to see 'Dinosaur Adventure' (The Land Before Time). Run by a husband and wife team, Ludwig Ickert and Simone Greiss, and I suspect not a single other employee. The backgrounds look like they were hand drawn by elementary schoolers and the characters themselves appear to have been TRACED from the source material. All three cats from "Nice Cats" have the same outline as Duchess from The Aristocats. The animation style reminds me of something between outdated 70's x-rated cartoons and that creepypasta 'Suicide Mouse'. From the limited images I've seen, it appears that all of their films have the same unfinished dullness. If the animation and copyright infringement wasn't enough, the dialog is amateurishly storybook style; with a woman narrating for every character. She has no accent but the grammar and sentax tells me that this was poorly translated from another language. With sentences like "Breathing was difficult for many people because the air was stuffy" - in regards to living in the city, or when the catcher caught a cat saying "That was a successful cat!". My favorite line however is when Lucy announces "I can't find my damn hairbrush!" - apparently Dingo is notorious for sprinkling curse words into their films.

A few other things I appreciated about 'Nice Cats'...

the entire movie is poorly hand drawn up until the end when they board an 8 bit boat. Suddenly we're in a video game.

The placement of the characters over the background went beyond not giving a shit. Charlie is floating in the middle of the frame like some experimental Jean-Christophe Averty shit.

Cameo by fake Thumper.

The saddest pizza I've ever seen. This isn't even Crayola, this is Roseart half way through the school year.

This racially confused Italian restaurant with a pizza being flipped like a pancake and a miniature china-man wearing a coolie and holding two sticks in front of a closed pot. This may be one of the most confusing moments in film history. I am literally stunned.

With my own "nice cat" Egbert recovering from oral surgery, this seemed like as good a time as any to participate in this bewilderment. Egbert has the luxury of pain killers why I painfully endured in sobriety. 'Nice Cats' and "Dingo Pictures" in general  is a personal journey you must decided if you want to take. God help you if you're as masochistic as me.


August in the Water (1995)

My introduction to Sogo Ishii came in the form of his voltaic cyber-punk films. Between Crazy Thunder Road, Burst City and later Electric Dragon 80,000V I thought I had Ishii pretty well figured out. Not until last year when I stumbled upon August in the Water, did I make the shocking revelation that in addition to his kinetic rebellious wastelands, he has the temperament to make something truly nuanced and cosmic.

Ever since her recent move, Izumi has felt a change in her body. Her senses have made her aware of impending danger on a planetary scale. A star diver, she feels psychically linked to dolphins. The film opens with her impetuously jumping in a tank with them, which catches the eyes of fellow students Kyushu and Ukiya. Kyushu is clearly smitten with her but Ukiya is more curious than anything. He contacts a computer savvy friend who discovers that the date of a big diving competition coincides with a serious impending astrological disaster. This alone may seem like a coincidence but other strange things have been happening. A massive heatwave is in effect and a mysterious disease that turns your organs to stone has plagued the city.

At the diving tournament Izumi begins to feel disoriented and uncomfortable. When confronted by her angry coach for her poor performance, she explains that the water feels "hard" but she'll do her best. In a final attempt to redeem herself she dives and the water temporarily turns to stone, something no one can see, but she can feel. She clumsily falls into the water and sinks. Kyushu immediately knows something is wrong and jumps in to save her. She falls into a coma and initially the doctors fear the worse.

Miraculously a few days later she regains consciousness. This near death experience becomes an awakening of the metaphysical kind. Every detail comes into focus. Molecules in leaves, particles in the air. She can see things that others can't. She doesn't care about school anymore, and her budding romance with Kyushu fades into the background. She has gained the knowledge of what her role in the Universe will be.

She's drawn to a particular spot in the forest where UFO's have been spotted. There's a giant meteorite with etchings, it's like a magnet for her. The crisis that is effecting the city, and possibly one day the entire world, is alien in nature and Izumi is the only one with the cognizance to do something about it - though the force driving her is much larger than human actions.

What makes this film so special is how softly it steps on very big subjects. When dealing with the universe, aliens, mysterious illnesses and ecological concerns, it could so easily be schlocky and ineffectual. Ishii captured the essence of a Pure Moods tape and transforms it into an engaging tranquil science fiction narrative. It tells a story mostly in the form of sounds, textures and a dream-like atmosphere. Giving details only when completely necessary; truly an immersive film experience. He creates a magical environment using only visuals present in reality. No crazy effects, just the transcendental cosmic beautify of what exists in nature.

The soundtrack is possibly the most perfect auditory experience I've ever had watching a film. Hiroyuki Onogawa creates an eerie minimal soundscape that reflects an alien language, singing water drops, dolphin speak and the somber echoes of a dying planet. The marriage of sight and sound are nothing short of masterful.

August in the Water takes new age principles/pataphsyics and makes a film that is even more relevant today than it was twenty years ago. Both in theme and Proto-Vaporwave/Seapunk aesthetic. This film lives and breathes in it's own realm. I feel as though August in the Water is existing even after I've turned it off. It's presence lingers in those little microscopic molecules Izumi was talking about. Like the smell of water evaporating into air.

Because it's fairly obscure and I was lucky enough to track it down I'm making Hiroyuki Onogawa's serene experimental score available to download.