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Monday, October 14, 2013

Oldest Japanese Cartoon - 1907

I have always been interested in knowing what's the biggest, smallest, largest, heaviest, oldest… anything. I like to know how things work in a basic way and don't care to know the full scientific details if it's going to take a professor to explain them.

I'm just curious.

Although I have never been a fan of Japanese anime (animated cartoons), and often not a big fan of Japanese manga (comic books), there are a few I really like.

Usually when looking at cartoons, you can get a peek at the psyche of the society that bred them.  

The WWII cartoons of America and Japan are perfect examples: Propaganda aglow for both sides. Enough to make you want to puke as an adult, but funny or awe-inspiring as a kid.

Just sticking with American cartoons for the moment, there's Der Fuehrer's Face with Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny Nips The Nips… and before that in the dirty 30s and other non-war cartoons, there are the racist-themed cartoons with unflattering stereotypes straying Inky or Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves… They are all brilliant tons, but damn, it's racist.

Hell… just listen to the words of the traditional song Swanee River.

I've got banned cartoons, never reprinted comic books, books and View Master reels of Little Black Sambo, replica metal bank giveaways of a 'darkie'  eating a watermelon… like I said… stuff that makes you want to puke for ever having liked the things you liked as a child.

But it's all about context.

These things never made me into a racist. Neither did it make my white friends into racists. Not every person in Germany was a Nazi during WWII.

Anyhow… all  of that has nothing to do with anything except for some mild soapbox standing, as  I recall one of my generation trying to excuse their parent for having racist attitudes… sometimes people just aren't smart enough to move with the times.

This just seemed like a place to vent.

Anyhow… so what is the oldest Japanese cartoon?

Well… how about one from 1907? That's pretty effing old.

Katsudō Shashin (Moving Picture) was created by someone whose name is lost in the annals of time.

It's pretty damn small—50 total frames that equals three seconds of actual film—but considering that motion pictures were still in its infancy back in 1907, and not every one had one in their personal cell phone, we are talking about an epic achievement.

Rediscovered in Kyoto on July 31, 2005, the flick depicts a young Japanese boy in a sailor uniform (school uniform?) who writes on a board the kanji words: 活動写真, which translates to katsudō shashin or "moving pictures" in English). When he finishes, he turns to the viewer (us), doffs his cap and offers a salute.

Matsumoto Natsuki, a lecturer at the Osaka-Tokyo University of Arts and Music, found the 50-frame film in an old family projector in Kyoto among a collection of foreign animation.

I would be curious to know what the film was made of, and wonder why it never exploded from age, as old films (cartoons and movies) were often lost due to film instability—something that happened right up until the 1930s.

Also... what brand of motion picture projector was it found in? A Thomas Edison model or a  Japanese model copied from it?

And... what I find particularly interesting is the removal of the hat and a salute rather than a Japanese bow showing respect.

In my opinion, you can see how the cartoon is taking us back to a time in Japan when foreign culture was becoming more ingrained than ever before... enough to forsake a bow and offer a salute as a greeting. Was Japan trying to become more global and less Japanese?

Enjoy the flick here on YouTube:
To whomever created this cartoon - and because they are Japanese, they might still be alive - I take my hat off to you.

Andrew Joseph