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COMPANION PIECES with Gala Avary

Catnapped! (1995) / The Cat Returns (2002)


In a world saturated by ‘content’ and constant distractions, Gala Avary’s taste for tape — the battered and bruised VHS; the unloved and discarded media of yesteryear — has become somewhat infectious ever since she began producing The Video Archives Podcast for Quentin Tarantino and her father, Roger Avary. Eclectic, inquisitive and optimistic, the Queen of the Archives’ thirst for movies is always a deep dive; often inviting us to learn about cinema together... and (she would hope) become part of the conversation. Our movie chats are rather epic (so apologies in advance)... here, Gala presenting the perfect pairing (or purring) of animated movies.


But first, we caught up on her new podcast The Gala Show; what inspired her latest venture and those important transitions in becoming a producer and presenting other voices alongside her own…


Has it been a conscious decision to move into podcasting or something more fluid based on the success of the Video Archives Podcast?


There’s definitely been a fluid situation at play. But the most interesting thing is that I have been working with my father since I was 15 and eventually ended up producing his last film Lucky Day. He and Quentin hadn’t spoken in a while but when he watched Dad’s movie it led to a rekindling of their relationship. Once this happened and then COVID hit, during lockdown they were on the phone twenty-four-seven. And so this idea popped up between them: “Why don’t we just record this and make it a podcast so that people can listen to it?”


When you are doing something creative, you really need someone that you can trust… so I think my dad obviously knew that he could trust me. And because I’m family, Quentin also knew that he could trust me. In my opinion, if you go into a room full of ideas the producer’s job is to fight for the creative and if you don’t have a producer that’s going to fight for you and your vision, it won’t work out. The vision lives inside of the artist and sometimes the artist can’t fight for themselves because their art is so precious to them. You have to make concessions, but that’s my role as the producer for their show. I went in thinking: my number one priority is protecting Quentin and Roger and exactly how they want the show. And that meant a three-hour listening time. I mean… there was this brief conversation about the show running 45 minutes…


45 minutes?! Well… that wasn’t happening. [Laughs]


No, no… [laughs]… can you imagine with those two? So, I really fought for that length. Plus, Quentin wanted it to come out every other week. So that’s something else I fought for, which is why I started to do the after-shows to make the advertisers happy that there was something coming out regularly, while maintaining the integrity of Quentin’s original vision. So — all of this podcast production — kind of did just happen by chance; producing for my father then naturally producing for the podcast. And, honestly, I think it’s a really good fit. I love what I do. I love to get to talk about movies all day… and love interfacing with different creatives. For example, I had the opportunity to meet Joe Dante. That was the one guest that I really went after, and I managed to pin him down and it was such a blessing.


Gala snap. Joe Dante (GREMLINS, THE HOWLING, MATINEE).

He’s great to chat with, isn’t he?


Just the nicest guy… and he’s like my Uncle Joe [Laughs]


There are few Joes out there — the likes of Edgar Wright and obviously Scorsese; Quentin, your dad and Mick Garris — those who are not just these filmmakers but have this unparalleled knowledge of cinema. They live and breathe it.


Yeah. And that’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed is to chat with all these guys who are encyclopedias. They don’t pull out their phones to look anything up. When you sit there with the likes of Joe he’ll say, “Well, you know what… I was in that room. I cut that trailer. I did that.” Obviously, I’m like: “Tell me more!” Nothing beats that. These are the stories that matter to me.


Also, you get to know their personal tastes.


Which highlights their passion for movies all the more. These written Companion Pieces — your interviews so far — also reminded me of one of the reasons I started doing The Gala Show, because through my dad and one of his friends there was access to this library of one of the interviewers for Playboy magazine; articles from the ’70s right through to the ’90s. I started listening to his taped interviews because we were considering editing and publishing them with bookends for context. So, I got to listen one for John Milius from 1980. As we know, John had a stroke so listening to him talk privately about movies was incredible; just in the way that they’re talking; it was so different than how you would discuss it all today, especially if they know it’s on a screen or the recording is going out.


It’s not performative.


Exactly. I’d like to think there’s a comfort in trusting the writer.


Well, I’ll do my best this end.


Gala snap too. Actor Chris Sarandon (LIPSTICK, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, FRIGHTNIGHT).

[Laughs] Similarly, the other reason I started my show was since the last time we spoke, all of these conversations have been crucial in working on a film history book. I’ve been sourcing all kinds of additional information while interviewing actors, writers, directors and family members linked to all of the movies covered in season one of The Video Archives… because there are just some things that are not out there. My very first interview was with Chris Sarandon for Lipstick and I had the opportunity to speak with him about it… and he just looked at me, “I’ve never had anyone ask me a single question about this movie.” I remember thinking: this is an actor who has never been asked about this movie… that could just completely disappear in the wind. I wish I had recorded that properly because it was just handwritten… but that experience spurred the idea for The Gala Show all the more; that there are all these people out there who are just asked about the same few projects. For Chris, it’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and The Princess Bride.


Fright Night? I’d be more than guilty of asking him about that one.


Of course! I just watched it on 16 mm and it was wonderful. I’d have asked him about Star Trek, as I’m a huge Trekkie. But, in spurring these new conversations for my show I wanted to see what they wanted to talk about. So far it’s been everything from wrestling to right-wing cinema. I don’t know anything about wrestling… but I do now!


You get to know individuals through what they’re interested in rather than what they may need to promote or what the media want to latch onto in order to gain viewers/readers. We’d rather hear them talk about something they love, surely? The rest will be (and has been) covered countless times.


Which can be a little boring for a guest, I’m sure, unless a new spin. I mean, looking at you, obviously one would know you’re really interested in movies, but maybe you have a secret interest.


[Laughs] Let’s not go there…


What? [Laughs] You might be a golfer for all I know.


I certainly have handicaps.


Well, golf or reality TV (that's me!), it always circles back to the movies with my guests, no matter what background they are from.


So, back to your background and journey so far: you produce a film, put it out there and it brings you all back together to discuss movies. What a beautiful thing.


Enduring friendship. Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary at home in THE VIDEO ARCHIVES.


It was really wonderful. I remember it clearly as my dad and I were doing press. We were in a hotel lobby grabbing something to eat and my dad received a message from Quentin to get in touch. I remember my dad saying, “Oh, he watched Lucky Day… and we’re going to talk again.” It was such a nice thing to happen. Then through the podcast it’s obvious their friendship had endured. I just think that’s one of the really wonderful things: building that true connection and that true friendship.


Absolutely… and that you can come back to that friendship as though a day hasn’t gone by.


I’m a sucker for friendship. It’s one of the most powerful things we have… and it’s actually one of my favourite tropes in animation, specifically.


Which brings us to your choices. We both love animation, but we equally love all of these different areas of cinema. There can be this dichotomy at play with the kinds of movies we watch and discuss — that contrast between more extreme examples of cinema and the more accessible works out there — but animation remains the ultimate comfort blanket or detox. So, my first question would be: How do you explain the idea of watching and appreciating both?


You can always watch both. It’s all cinema… and just feeds all these different tastes. Even going in completely blind. Prime example: I recently watched “Saw Patrol” — Paw Patrol (the better of the two!) plus Saw X — which was like a mini Barbenheimer [Laughs]. Shortly after, I watched Mick Garris’ Sleepwalkers and then a fan of the podcast passed me a tape of John McPherson’s Strays.


I’m assuming this is what led to your choices for discussion?


Yes, originally, these were in the mix, having watched them back-to-back. I was then reminded of two animated movies from my childhood — Catnapped! and The Cat Returns — which I was first introduced to when my dad would return from Japan and bring back a bunch of DVDs and other material because it wasn’t available in the US at the time.


All I could do was import them at the time.


I was really blessed. He brought back Panda! Go Panda! along with the full box set of all the Studio Ghibli films that had been released up to that point… and among these was Cat Napped!, which is still very difficult to find. We still watch all of these movies on those discs. So, I remember as a kid, I had access to all of them, even the lesser-known ones that you still have to track down now. It was interesting because the more obscure and foreign, the more those animations sat better with my parents — whether it was Ralph Bakshi’s movies (when I was older!), Yellow Submarine, or Fantastic Planet — and I still find that comforting, even though some of them were soooo dark.


“… through these ‘animations’

we witness the truth of things.”


— Gala Avary


There are also specific memories that come with watching them. I always remember my mom making a plate of cheesy chips for my brother and me, sitting us both down in front of Toonami watching Japanese animation on our little tiny tube TV. And so we both grew up watching the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragonball Z; all of these dubbed Japanese animations. I later asked my mom, “Why did you choose that for my media growing up?” She was from a Polish household — first-generation American — and her family grew up during World War II, where anything Japanese was not allowed. Yet she made this conscious decision to show us these Japanese animated movies and shows. I asked her once her reason for that… “Oh, I found them more tolerable than the American ones.” As an adult, she was able to connect better with these specific films. They weren’t as annoying to her.


It’s interesting she went completely the opposite way, exposing you both to what she wasn’t able to absorb growing up.


Yeah, so my brother and I just developed this love for Japanese animation via a simple parenting choice. When I return to movies like this, specifically Studio Ghibli — which I think most young people my age (and younger) turned to — it is definitely a huge comfort blanket I’m able to retreat into. I had seen Whisper of the Heart — which is the third movie that would go with these two — but I had seen it in the theatre because every year Fathom Events does the Ghibli Festival. I hadn’t seen The Cat Returns in quite some time. Dad pulled out the old DVD… and man, I cried the entire time. I lay under the blanket and I was drawn back to my childhood immediately. It was the same with Catnapped! Even my brother visited and watched it with me. He doesn’t always come out to watch a movie but he sat there and we were both like little children — “BUBUUURINAAA, BUBUUURINAAA! [Laughs] — we experienced it again together and it was so special.


Animated memories. Left: Gala and her brother, Ever, late-'90s. Middle/Right: Original DVDs and Mischief the cat.


Nostalgia is a very powerful thing.


It truly is… and I think maybe that’s why animation is seen as this ultimate comfort blanket. Even when I see an old animated movie now for the first time that was geared towards children and older audiences. The Last Unicorn is a good example.


Oh yeah. It’s great.


Another sad movie… and that’s going to come up a lot here. I didn’t watch that movie when I was a child but I still feel an affinity to it. There is this style and vibe that makes me feel as if I were a child watching it. So I think the design of animation has a lot to do with that. When that part is done right, it’s impeccable.


Some of them connect to the inner child. You’re not always taken back to being a child, but there is something immediate. I was the same with The Last Unicorn as I had only watched it in recent years with my daughter. The other Rankin/Bass feature, The Flight of Dragons is also superb.


What’s interesting about Rankin/Bass productions is that there’s a deep sadness. That could be said for a lot of older animations and you certainly find that in Studio Ghibli’s work too. For example, Kiki’s Delivery Service. The entire movie has this message of: “It’s okay to be sad.” Sometimes you are going to be sad and you are going to be crying and things won’t go your way… and that’s okay. That’s the entire message in My Neighbour Totoro with the mother on the brink of death. It’s about the family unit that may be crumbling and them dealing with the idea she may die. Thank god for the happy ending… but there’s that moment where you really think, she’s dead. And, of course, Grave of the Fire Flies. I watched that when I was four.


When you were four?!


My parents put it on just thinking, it’s Studio Ghibli, everything will be okay. I’ve never watched it since!


No escaping their adult themes whether it’s Totoro or Fireflies, which, on their initial release, came out as a double bill. Can you believe that?!


Well, they’re both sad movies, for sure. One on a more familial level, the other on a national level. Essentially, they are stories about ‘coming together’ whether as a community or as a country.


It’s not the same sadness you would associate with Disney — that saccharin quality and manipulation of your feelings. Ghibli take their time. You’re fully immersed and you don’t quite know why you’re feeling the way you are until it punches you in the gut. Maybe part of that is because you’re more removed from the culture, that the style of storytelling is so vastly different, which is so important when watching a film; in that you learn something about another culture and their storytelling.


For sure. I took my godfather to see Totoro for the very first time as he’d never seen it. Man, he was bawling — never knew what hit him — just cried the entire movie. It was like this cathartic experience. Even for someone who never experienced this film as a child, he was able to become emotionally vulnerable watching it as an adult. I think that’s the true gift that animation delivers.


Oh, definitely. It’s an incredible medium.


Also, being brought up on anime — especially the shows — watching them dubbed doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I know the purists hate dubs but I love them; it’s something else that feels nostalgic to me. The creator of one of my favourites growing up, Yu Yu Hakusho, stated that the dub for the character Kuwabara is one of the best dubs of all time, and even he recommends that you watch it that way.


They certainly don’t throw them together, that’s for sure. Ghibli movies, as you would expect, have incredible casts.


The dub for The Cat Returns is fantastic! You have Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Tim Curry, Kristen Bell, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould and René Auberjonois. Catnapped! isn’t star-studded but its voice actors are stars in their own right, including Dorothy Elias-Fahn who plays Toriyasu. She’s worked on Naruto and Sailor Moon and is the gate voice in one of our favourites Cowboy Bebop! Sandy Fox —  who plays the little sister Meeko — provided the 2001 dub of Kiyoko in Akira, but is probably most well known for voicing Chibiusa in Sailor Moon. Anime fans who have grown up with these characters love these voices.


A crucial way in for most Western audiences. When the Akira-boom hit during the early ’90s, the first VHS was the dub. Then (if I recall), there was a double edition with the original Japanese release over here in the UK, via Manga Entertainment.


It’s interesting to see how it has evolved over the years in the West and also how there are people who just consume it. They’re ravenous. I still watch animated movies, obviously, but I don’t watch as much of the anime shows as I used to. The fanbase just seems to have grown even bigger than the shows!


Another thing for people to lose themselves in. Especially with streaming.


I don’t have Netflix anymore. It’s liberating.


I have to say, there is some genuinely exceptional animation on Netflix. It’s the only reason I could justify a subscription, but it’s a shame some of these incredible animated movies and shows may never see a physical release. They even have most of the Ghibli Library on there now too. Let’s talk a little more about how connected these films are, especially via Whisper of the Heart


WHISPER OF THE HEART (1995) features The Baron as a figurine until brought to life in the mind of a young writer, Shizuku. Is THE CAT RETURNS the book she wrote, or the (real) fantasy world that inspired her?

People initially assume The Cat Returns is a sequel to Whisper of the Heart, but it’s actually a standalone movie. It came out in 1995, the same year as Catnapped! Both are Ghibli films but by different directors — Yoshifumi Kondō on Whisper of the Heart and Hiroyuki Morita on The Cat Returns. They feature this character called The Baron (aka Baron Humbert von Gikkingen), which, in Whisper is initially this figurine of a cat — the hint of another story within the story — so, naturally, those two movies are always paired. That’s the obvious double feature you would do… but proposing a different double feature (a triple if you like!), I felt that Catnapped! was the more perfect pairing. The director of Catnapped! Takashi Nakamura never directed a Studio Ghibli movie but was a key animator on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, so the film is already Ghibli adjacent.


He also worked on Akira.


And Neo Tokyo. There are a few of these guys like that in Japanese animation who started somewhere and have crossed over.


Journeymen animators.


Yes… but Nakamura is also a great character designer. He has that kind of Ghibli character animation style that makes Catnapped! a perfect fit.


Cat's 'n' tech.

Both films are beautifully animated. It was the first time I had seen Catnapped! for this discussion and I was bowled over by the animation. Obviously, it’s Japanese animation, but there was something there that had a distinct ’90s vibe, such as the colours, the style and movement.


Both films also have this European quality with the castles and you can see this Japanese fascination with the medieval period come through. Obviously, vastly different, but we’ve often spoken about Berserk, which is one of the best (alternative) stories of medieval Europe that never came from Europe.


It seems to be the equivalent of how the West is fascinated by how alien and exotic Eastern history can be. They reconstitute the knights in armour and we fantasise over samurai.


Aside from all these wonderful textures and (historical) details, there are the cats themselves. I love cats, so the feline aspect sits well with me. But there are also these human characters who go off on these adventures in both films… maybe not sure if they’re asleep; therefore there is this dreamlike whimsical quality. Most importantly, the main characters struggle with growing up and finding their place in the world. It breaks my heart that Toriyasu loves his dog, Papadoll, yet he’s bullied so badly that he takes his frustrations out on his pet. The one thing devoted to him.


That is so upsetting to watch.


Painful. I remember at the time that it was about a boy who is neglecting his dog, but then rewatching it as an adult when he kicks Papadoll… it’s so sad because it becomes more disturbing. But through these ‘animations’ we witness the truth of things. The one person who loves him, no matter what, is his dog and he’s willing to neglect and abuse Papadoll to fit in with everyone else. I love that he overcomes that through this story… even if that may be a dream. Then, in The Cat Returns, Haru is always late. She has no direction in life; she doesn’t know what she’s doing… can’t even get up for breakfast. Again, she goes on this journey with cats and comes out the other side transformed into a young adult. Up for breakfast with clean clothes!


The transition you see in these fantasies — not necessarily as a child, but once you’re a teen or an adult — you realize all the more that Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are about lost girls who become women. Bringing up the style again of Catnapped!, it felt closer to something Don Bluth would make injected with Dali-inspired imagery. It’s a trippy animation.


Don Bluth’s films are often desolate and heartbreaking. The Land Before Time, especially… and The Secret of NIMH is shockingly disturbing. I love Anastasia. In the same way Catnapped! is the best Studio Ghibli movie that is not Studio Ghibli, Anastasia is the best Disney movie that isn’t Disney. Bluth is the perfect Western equivalent of these animations.


It can be frustrating watching Don Bluth’s work because, apart from perhaps An American Tale, everything outside of that has fallen under the radar (or buried), certain features just never hitting home with anybody. They always just end up on the outskirts. I love how he came from a Disney background and went and did his own thing. Titan A.E. is a good example, which, along with Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant, felt like it hammered the final nail in the coffin for 2D animated movies in the West at the turn of the century.


Oh, The Iron Giant is amazing.


Masterpiece… but bombed!


It’s interesting to see what bombed at the box office and are now often beloved films. I watched The Iron Giant when I was a kid and the whole “I am not a gun” — that he chooses to be whatever he wants to be — is one of the most wonderful sentiments. It gives me tingles just thinking about it. Fantastic movie.


Easily in my top five animated movies of all time. Coming back to the double bill though — all these influences and themes — especially how animation often attaches itself to creating dreamlike imagery and dream worlds. I think animation does that the best. It’s as though as children we recall our dreams are animated; an otherworldly quality the medium is able to capture… manipulating the imagination.


Villainess, Buburina.

It’s also crazy because when I rewatched these I noticed how both movies honestly truly affected me growing up. They are encoded deep within me, maybe in ways I don’t recall (or even understand) but I know they are a part of my DNA from consuming them so young. For example, the sequence in Catnapped! where it goes back in time into Buburina’s dream and she sees the terrible thing that she did — forcing this girl to walk across a tightrope — to the moments she connects with Papadoll. She loves Papadoll. It’s a weird little movie but has these very human moments.


Echoes of Nemo. Above: The evolution of Windsor McCay's character Little Nemo from the original strip (first published in 1905) to one of the earliest animated films in 1911 and 1989's troubled animated feature from Japanese production company Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Check out WHISPER OF THE HEART director, Yoshifumi Kondō's original test film here.


Another key thing I was picking up on is this fascinating connection to the origins of animation. They are so heavily inspired by Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo. It’s in the look and feel of both these films, specifically Catnapped! And when you dig into this, you then realise the director of Whisper of the Heart directed the original pitch for the Studio Ghibli version of a Little Nemo movie… which then evolved into 1989’s Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.


It just shows off all the more how all three movies are beautifully intertwined and because Catnapped! and Whisper of the Heart came out the same year, I feel The Cat Returns seems to draw from both of them and informs its world. Like how The Baron takes Haru to his realm and she also starts to turn into a cat. And I’ll take it further: I like to think this catnapped kingdom is the same one as there are moments where we see murals expanding on each of the movies’ mythologies. There’s this crossover and whimsical quality. Something else worth pointing out — which is not typical as with other Ghibli films — is that there is no romance. Only fleeting moments in each… a kiss (or a lick) on the cheek. But in most Ghibli movies there is this leading archetype of a girl and her ‘man’.


Haru and The Baron from THE CAT RETURNS (2002)

Which Whisper of the Heart is a prime example of.


Yes. It ends with them riding on a bike saying, “I love you.” These films don’t include that as it is more about the individual growing up, not only harkening back to what we have already referenced in other classic literature but also the devices at play are symbolic of this. For instance, there are 24-hour timers in both movies. They make it very specific: that you only have until the sun goes down.


Reminds me of Labyrinth, [Best Bowie impersonation] “You have thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth before your baby brother becomes one of us... forever.”


[Laughs] Cursed echoes in all these films. Witchcraft devices… break the spell or you’ll stay as a cat… forever.


And cats seem such a huge part of Japanese culture, roaming the streets.


Well, it’s an island to them. It’s their kingdom.


They are interesting characters to play with. The duel personality — they can be friendly but associated with something more mythic and insidious — again, symbolic of witchcraft and magic. As Catnapped! illustrates: a dog’s personality is loyal, while the cats are more emotionally complex.


Definitely.


“As most people know, I’ll choose my

VHS cabinet over Netflix, any day.”


— Gala Avary


So, to begin wrapping all of this up, what do you feel Japanese animation captures that Western examples never seem to grasp?


It’s a difficult question to answer, but, personally, I’m going to go with the cultural themes. Although there are certainly Western influences — the rebuilding of the cities, etc. — the struggles that Japan has gone through post-war are hard coded into all of their work. I feel this is where we find that deep sadness that we’ve been discussing. Some societies put their country first — the greater good over the individual — and I feel as though Japan is one of those places that focuses on characters who rally together. In America, specifically, we’re much more individualistic. When you see a Disney animated movie or new Pixar — such as Turning Red — it’s all about breaking free from traditions… even for those who have settled in the West. It’s not about what our parents say; let’s do what we want. And… you know what… I don’t think that is necessarily the right message. Japan’s message is much different and I feel that’s why audiences resonate more with their storytelling as they have a different style that may have evolved over the years into being a caricature of what it once was. That, in itself, remains distinctive.


They can make a freeze frame more compelling than five minutes’ worth of animation.


And with those choices of direction, they endure. It’s just a shame that certain films, such as Catnapped! fall by the wayside and become ‘lost media’. For now, you’re watching this one (God forbid) on a torrent site or YouTube, folks… unless you’re spending 150 dollars on a DVD!


This is why what The Video Archives feeds into is so important. You’re helping to keep physical media alive. Not just latching onto the importance of cinema but its curation. I think that’s starting to come back. Even specific labels are using their streaming service to curate rather than saturate. For example, your Arrow Selects.


As most people know, I’ll choose my VHS cabinet over Netflix, any day. I go to the five-dollar bin and just pick a bunch of movies. I watch them and if I don’t like them, I’ll return them to the store. I treat them like an extended rental — four months, a year, two years — I can give it back whenever and let someone else enjoy it.


You certainly have one foot in the ’80s and ’90s still, living an analogue life to cut out the noise. 


Movies and a purring cat is where it’s at for me!


So, you end up screening these films at the New Beverly as a double bill. Which do you put on first?


Oh, The Cat Returns first and then Catnapped! Only because if I was going to just sit an audience down and have them watch these movies, Catnapped! is my personal favourite but it’s more psychedelic. So let’s end with the fun ride.


Fun as always, Gala — great to catch up and thanks so much for sharing your double bill.


You’re welcome. I’ll see you on the flip side, Rich!

 

Listen to the first season of The Video Archives Podcast with Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and check out Gala’s own interviews weekly via The Gala Show. For further film curation you can view Gala Avary Selects Vol. I and Vol. II along with our discussion exploring the Fangoria Archives.


Gala and Mischief photographed by Davyd.




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