May 13, 2008 - 05:34 AM
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Tamala 2010
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

In my review of Cat Soup, I stated that experimental film was one of anime's last untapped markets. It's true-- you can find damn near any genre you're looking for at all the local shops, be it science fiction, comedy, romance, mystery, or historical drama. But what you won't find is some truly weird stuff-- artsy, obtuse fare like the long series of shorts Osamu Tezuka created when he wasn't making huge commercial hits, stuff like Koji Morimoto's Noiseman Sound Insect and Cheburashka. Bold, experimental Japanese animation like this is out there, and it's starting to make its presence known-- Tamala 2010 is yet more proof of that, a surprisingly ambitious and almost completely incomprehensible feature film produced by a Japanese artists collective.

See, Tamala 2010 is a heavy movie. Very heavy. I never really knew what that meant-- describing something as "heavy"-- until I started watching Tamala 2010, and I found my eyelids growing heavy, and my head growing even heavier. Tamala 2010 is an art film, created by a collective called t.o.L. (which stands, apparently, for "trees of Life"). It's about an outrageously cute cat named Tamala, and her quest to leave the planet of Feline Earth and venture forth to Orion, in search of her birth mother. It's a film that has an alluringly bold visual style. It's all in monochrome, almost automatically evoking comparisons to Max Fleischer cartoons; Tamala herself, as well as the rest of the characters, sports a heavy-lined, simplified design that just begs to be imprinted on a T-shirt or sold as a toy. She's an adorable character, a streamlined, cartoony cat that looks just like she ought to be the mascot for some product or another. Oddly enough, the movie addresses this concept-- but not right away.

So Tamala lives in the Feline Galaxy on Feline Earth, which resembles a marriage of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the version of New York City from Futurama. Tamala wants to go visit Orion to meet her real mother. She doesn't really get along with her adoptive mother, a sour-faced woman with a boa constrictor. "I fucking hate that bitch," Tamala comments in an adorably squeaky voice.

Unfortunately for Tamala, her ship ends up crash landing on Planet Q, which, I am compelled to point out, is only seven planets away from Planet X, the planet with the largest supply of aludim phosdex-- the shaving cream atom! That joke never gets old. Tamala, being a cat, lands on her feet-- specifically, in the bustling metropolis of Hate, right in the passenger seat of a Holstein-patterned Porsche. The luxury car is driven by Michaelangelo, a cat who wanders through the movie with a look of perpetual dismayed surprise on his face. He's right to be dismayed-- Tamala takes a fancy to him, calling him "Moimoi" incessantly, languidly ripping off the door to his car to get a little fresh air, and beating on anything that annoys her in the least. Despite this, he becomes curious about her mission to find her mom, and takes her bowling, where she promptly knocks over all ten pins. "It's a fucking strike," she proudly proclaims.

See, this is how Tamala 2010 chooses to be edgy and break up the monotony. Whenever the onscreen action lurches to a halt (and believe me, it happens often), Tamala will do one of three things. She'll behave violently, which will present the viewer with the entertaining juxtaposition of a cute character doing horrible violence. If she doesn't do that, she'll stretch and yawn cutely. And if she doesn't do that, she'll swear. In English. Fa-ki-n-gu.

Anyway, bits and pieces of the plot reveal themselves throughout Tamala's 90-odd minute run time; we get to meet Kentauros, a snarling wolfman who violently terrorizes the city of Hate-- and particularly, a hapless little mouse named Penelope. More importantly, we find out that Tamala's quest to meet her mother is just the fulfillment of a larger destiny-- the Feline Galaxy is run by a giant mega-corporation called Catty & Co., and Tamala is the most important element in their ages-old plan to grind the galaxy under their gigantic corporate heel.

With Tamala 2010, t.o.L. have created a film that harshly criticizes corporate thinking and marketing, in a way that only lousy art school films can. The marketing of Tamala isn't just frivolous; it's an apocalyptic weapon that could destroy us all. All the movie needs to really ram the message down the viewer's throat is a sequence featuring Tamala lip-synching along to Joe Jackson's "I'm the Man." It's sort of fun if you're in the right mindset, but I don't think I have been for at least eight years.

One thing about Tamala 2010 which I can comfortably praise is its artwork. The film has an absolutely fantastic visual sense-- its flat, unshaded look really stands out from the pack of more mainstream-friendly cartoons, and its characters have a sharp, cute-but-intimidating look that's more than a little reminiscent of artists like Mari-chan, Chax Mori, and Junko Mizuno. Best among theses is Tamala herself; she's a great character, decked out in an outfit that makes her look sort of like Prince Planet. I've already seen this film described as a subversive Hello Kitty simply because Tamala happens to be a cat, but I don't agree with this. You can't really say that Tamala 2010 is a dissection of Hello Kitty, because the iconography that Tamala represents is about ten years older than Sanrio's famous line of characters. Visually, she has more in common with Peko-chan than with Pekkle.

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What I've described so far isn't all that bad-- the leaden anti-commercial message is tiring, to be sure, but Tamala 2010 has a really fresh, vital look. Unfortunately for the film, this is lost completely thanks to the most obnoxiously slow-paced, snail-like cinematography and direction I've seen in a non-hentai anime flick. Not surprisingly, Tamala 2010 appears to be authored in Flash, at least in part. Flash is actually a pretty solid animation tool, but the animation director is way too fond of making the characters lazily walk across each scene, moving at the exact same pace at all times. The monotony is only broken up by the occasional close-up or still perspective shot-- all the rest is so similar-looking it may as well be stock footage. If Tamala 2010 really seeks to emulate vintage cartoons with its black and white style, then it needs to include stuff like greater movement, whip-pans, and some nice, rapid-fire editing to keep things interesting. Even the famously low-budget original Astroboy is more visually exciting than Tamala 2010.

The other albatross weighing Tamala 2010 down is its dialogue and core concept-- Tamala may be cute when she utters profanity that would make a trucker blush, but when the characters really sit down and start talking, the movie's soporific qualities really become apparent. There's this awful, rambling dialogue between Michaelangelo and a mysterious old zombie dude midway through the film-- the zombie dude tries to explain things, but it mostly just comes off like the Architect talking to Neo at the end of The Matrix Reloaded-- it's pretentious, dull, and awfully silly. To add insult to injury, the whole thing is repeated, to a large extent, later in the movie!

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Tamala 2010 is pretty dreadful. There are some really interesting visuals and neat concepts, but the movie's execution is terrible. It's a student film in the absolute worst sense of the word-- barely coherent and pretentious and sanctimonious and full of flaws in its execution. The cherry on top turns out to be the fact that t.o.L. have a rather ambitious campaign to market Tamala 2010 and its related characters and images called "Tamala Project." There's certainly something clever about using your artwork to criticize mass marketing and then turning around and participating in it yourself, but these guys have nothing on, say, Takashi Murakami. If Tamala 2010 is an experimental film, then the experiment was a failure.

Added:  Thursday, November 06, 2003

Related Link:  Tamala 2010
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