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Road-crossing safety video for cats fries delicate human minds

This police cat is teaching stuffed cats and real cats about road safety. © Yellow Hat - YouTube

A team of hot-shot Japanese academics has created a public service video packed with road-crossing safety tips – for cats.

By G. John Cole, 26 Feb 2019

It sounds like a case of ‘paw-lickety’ correctness gone mad. But the Kyoto University boffins were engaged by auto-parts retailer Yellow Hat in the name of feline road safety. And while human road-users can benefit from taking the course, it’s clear that the number one target audience of ‘National Transport Movement’ is cats.

Cat not splat

Human viewers will find Yellow Hat’s YouTube broadcast to be baffling at best – and terrifying at worst. But there is academic method in the madness. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Kyoto Uni boffins who made the video claim it is perfectly tuned into feline frequencies.

The narrator, who speaks cat language, was carefully selected through audience testing. Bird sounds and mouse squeak-like synthesizer effects are used to titillate the audience and keep them engaged. The video is filled with colour and movement, performed by a cast of cats and humans in cat costumes. They occupy a semi-animated composite world built from manipulated street footage, toys, puppets, and – most bafflingly of all – a piano-playing moggy who seems to have no particular connection to or interest in road safety issues.

Cut together like a music promo, the structure of the video hints at something more complex. Meta-‘public service video within a public service video,’ multiple levels of reality, Brechtian alienation techniques, and avant-garde artistry recalling the pre-war public service films created by Britain’s General Post Office Film Unit, raise more questions than they answer.

Goodbye Kitty

Despite the efforts of Kyoto’s finest minds, such as animal psychology specialist Professor Kazuo Fujita, the efficacy of the project is yet to be verified.

When the video was shown in a test screening at a cat café, the results were mixed. One cat ran around to the back of the iPad before settling in for its viewing experience. Others tried to punch or eat the devices on which the video was presented. One daft kitty pawed uselessly at the trackpad of its laptop while the film played, apparently mistaking it for a video game.

Video footage of the test screening gives human viewers neither hope for the successful reduction of feline roadkill, nor a particular desire to see that eventuality unfold. But the artefact itself – a road safety video by Japan’s finest minds intended for an audience of cats – is certainly a spectacular example of the absurd beauty of human culture, and will remain a monument to our ridiculous species long after we’re gone as it loops in perpetuity on abandoned devices across the continents, perhaps watched idly by our conquerors, the cats.