Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications

By Erkki Huhtamo; Jussi Parikka | Go to book overview

6
The “Baby Talkie,” Domestic
Media, and the Japanese Modern

Machiko Kusahara

Some time ago I happened to find an interesting old Japanese optical toy named Baby Talkie, preserved in its original box together with its “software” (figure 6.1). It is a version of the zoetrope meant to be placed on the gramophone turntable for the purpose of enjoying animations, accompanied by music—or the other way around, as the description on the box says: “[With this device] records you have got tired of will be fun again.” The basic idea behind this device was not new. Optical toys known as zoetropes were already used in the Western world in the nineteenth century. Versions were still produced after the arrival of the cinema, but these were small “kids’ versions” typically made of cardboard, paper, and wood. The Baby Talkie, however, seems to have had a more ambitious aim: the reintroduction of the zoetrope as a new medium. It is closer to a full-size zoetrope, stylish in design, and sturdy—made of sheet metal and cast iron. It has a feature neither the traditional zoetrope nor the “talkies” had yet achieved: it presents moving images in full color accompanied by sound. At least that is what it was meant for.

The quality of the Baby Talkie is confirmed by the nearly forty picture strips published for this device. They have been printed in full color on paper, and their themes clearly differ from the familiar motifs of the Western zoetrope strips, which were copied over and over again for years. While some of the strips—especially the later ones—are meant for young children, many of the themes, it seems, have been chosen to amuse teenagers and adults. As we will later see, they include an interesting mixture of Japanese and “Western” motifs—a Buddhist priest, samurai fighting, a skeleton dance, Charlie Chaplin, baseball players, and soldiers, among others. The quality of the illustrations and the printing associates the product with the blossoming of the internationally minded modernist culture that emerged in

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