It’s Thursday morning, Japan time, Wednesday night, U.S. time, and it’s looking like Obama has closed the deal. By any measure, McCain has not made the breakthrough he needed in either of the first two debates, and the V.P. debate had zero effect on the polls. McCain was said to have an advantage in the first debate, because the focus was foreign policy. He was said to have a chance of “winning” the second, because he is supposedly more comfortable with the town hall meeting format. (I guess he’s more comfortable when they’re packed with his supporters.) Is there a chance he’ll make a comeback in the final debate? No. It’s clear that this is one old dog who cannot learn new tricks. He’s shown us his stuff, and he hasn’t got anything more. McCain’s recent wave of negative attacks–particularly Palin’s performances in front of rabid fans–have backfired. The McCain campaign politely informed us in advance that they were going to go negative, and the Obama campaign responded with a brilliant little documentary that makes a case against McCain without sounding unfair or mean-spirited (unlike McCain’s dishonorable “dishonorable” ad).
And though I was worried a couple of weeks ago about the possibility of an electoral college draw, or even a loss for Obama, that now seems as unlikely as the Dow surging 1000 points tomorrow. The possibility of an anomalous Obama-Palin administration is now essentially zero, though it was amusing to consider for a while.
Here’s how things look right now on RealClearPolitics‘ current electoral map. (Click on the image to see the most current map.)
RealClearPolitics' Electoral Map, 10 p.m. E.S.T., October 8
Here’s their map in “No Toss Up States” mode. (Again, click the image for the most current map.)
RealClearPolitics' "No Toss Ups" Map, 10 p.m. E.S.T., October 8
And here’s my more pessimistic “No Toss Ups” map, after shaving 3% off Obama’s current numbers. (Where knocking off 3% resulted in a dead heat, e.g. Florida and Nevada, I gave the states to McCain.)
Matt's more pessimistic map
And just for good measure, here’s Pollster.com‘s electoral map. (Once again, click the image for the most current map.)
Pollster.com's Electoral Map, 10 p.m. E.S.T., October 8
And if that’s not enough data for you, just take a look at how the gamblers are betting over at Intrade.com.
Seriously. What could possibly happen in the next month to result in McCain garnering 270 electoral votes? Barring Obama’s sudden demise, nothing. The muckrakers have found every bit of dirt on Obama that exists, and it’s all already out there. (McCain, on the other hand, has plenty of dirt that is known of but which is not yet widely known. Just read Rolling Stone‘s devastating exposé here.) Even a new Bin Laden video or a terrorist attack won’t help the Republicans this time. On the contrary, the debates have highlighted that it is Obama who has the steady, firm hand, and McCain who is both erratic and trigger-happy.
I don’t believe in jinxes, but to spare myself some embarrassment should the unthinkable actually occur, I won’t connect the dots here and state the obvious conclusion to be drawn from all this current information.
I managed to acquire a bunch of prewar Japanese animation, and thought I would introduce some of the better stuff here. These are five short pieces from 1934 and 1935. Of the three silent films, two (“Sankichi the Monkey” and “A Japanese Tom Thumb”) had musical scores that are now lost. All three have Japanese subtitles.
In the days before talkies, it was common in Japan for silent films of all kinds to be narrated live by a benshi, a practice that was a natural outgrowth of the traditional narration of such Japanese performance arts as noh, bunraku, and kabuki. Unfortunately, there are no surviving recordings (as far as I know) of the benshi narration of any prewar animation, and narrations added more recently are of course not in the public domain. But since we modern folks can’t stand to watch video that is truly silent, I added the sound of a movie projector (public domain!) to the silent videos. (^_^) One of the films is so good, I went to the trouble of adding English subtitles.
First up is “Dekobô’s Automobile Journey” (Dekobô no jidôsha ryokô). Nothing is known about this film beyond the fact that the voice actress was apparently Kazuko Matsuura. It’s probably from the early to mid 1930s. It’s not a true talkie, but a “record talkie,” in which the film is distributed with a soundtrack on a record, wich must be played as closely in synch with the film as possible. It’s also, as you will see, completely nuts. There are dozens of short, prewar Japanese animations that fall under the “completely nuts” rubric. This is actually one of the more coherent and better crafted of these. Most are a jumble of bizarre (nay, “surreal”) slapstick that begins and ends abruptly, as if something is missing. This one has a subtitle, “A Trip to the Moon,” but it ends the very moment the protagonist and his dog land on the Moon. At least, I think that’s where they land. Matsuura hurriedly tries to provide a semblance of closure in the last few seconds of narration, but it doesn’t help much. Nonetheless, the production values are better than most of the “completely nuts” animation produced at the time, and while the protagonist comes off as a psycho (beating the crap out of an eagle for laughing at his flat tire), his dog is cute.
Next we have “Sankichi the Monkey: Shock Troops” (Osaru no Sankichi: totsugeki tai), a silent film from 1934 directed by Mitsuyo Seo. Seo would go on to create Japan’s first feature-length animated films, Momotaroh’s Sea Eagle (1943, 37 minutes) and Momotaroh: Divine Warriors of the Sea (1945, 74 minutes). If you didn’t guess from the titles and production dates, these were both war propaganda films, surprisingly well funded by the military government. They’re both quite good, too. If I can track these down, I’ll upload them as well. Anyway, Sankichi gives us a glimpse of Seo’s budding talent. It also offers a glimpse of post-Manchurian Incident militarism. Too bad the musical score is lost.
“The Routing of the Tengu” (Tengu taiji) is also from 1934, and also by a director destined for greatness, Noburô Ôfuji. This is plenty surreal, but not “completely nuts.” It’s coherent, has a proper beginning, middle and end, and is well made. It’s also cute and funny even 74 years later. Ôfuji shows an obvious American influence (the hero looks like Betty Boop in drag), but his material and motifs are distinctively Japanese. There are tongue in cheek references to kabuki melodrama, e.g., the scene in which the hero vows to avenge his fallen (or rather “flattened”) comrade, and bounces off on one foot as the night watchman clacks his sticks together kabuki-style. This is a great little animation, but you don’t really have to understand Japanese to appreciate it, since the action is pretty much self explanatory. I should note, though, that the nemeses in this film are tengu, a sort of goblin from Japanese legend. Tengu are traditionally represented in two ways. The most common form is with a human face and a long, phallic nose. The other has a humanoid face with a short beak. Here, the rank-and-file tengu have beaks, and the big boss…well, see for yourself.
Next we have another by Seo, this one from 1935. Since the title (Issun Bôshi Chibisuke monogatari) is essentially untranslatable, I have dubbed it “The Japanese Tom Thumb.” It is a comical adaptation of the Japanese legend of Issun Bôshi, a thumb-sized young man who comes to Kyoto to make his way in the world, and becomes an unlikely hero, defeating an ogre who makes, well, “man-sized” men tremble. Again, too bad the soundtrack is lost. The absence of music makes the opening sequence a bit tedious, but it’s worth watching till the end.
Finally I offer “Why Sea Water Is Salty” (Umi no mizu ha naze karai), also from 1935. This was directed by Yasushi Murata, a prolific but little-remembered prewar animator. I had low expectations when I first watched this, because everything else I had seen by him was mediocre if not just plain lousy. (He was the director of the serviceable if uninspiring “Corporal Norakuro” I introduced last time.) But this is a ten-minute masterpiece. It is probably the best-crafted, least derivative prewar short I have seen. There is a minimum of slapstick, the drawing style is fairly realistic, and yet the film works as entertainment. Note the facial expressions and subtle body language. This is another adaptation of a Japanese folktale, and could easily have become the kind of fluff that “A Japanese Tom Thumb” was, but Murata’s muse must have descended big time. I really love this one. Here’s my subtitled version, uploaded to Youtube:
There is an English-language version of “Why Sea Water Is Salty” (and the other four films, too) available on the wildly overpriced “Japanese Anime Classic Collection” (ISBN 978-4-903759-01-2), but note that that version has an new soundtrack, includes new Japanese narration, and the English subtitles are a translation of the new narration, not the original Japanese subtitles. As far as I know, this animation is copyright-free in the U.S. (and perhaps elsewhere), and I have no problem with people using my subtitled version in classes or other screenings, as long as you don’t try to make any money off it. Here’s a much higher quality version for download. This file is MPEG-4 (mp4), 720 x 480 pixels, H.264 encoded, and the sound is AAC, monaural, 44.1 kHz. I made it with iMovie on a Mac. If you have any trouble with it, please let me know. Also, if you do use it to show in class or in some other kind of screening, I’d appreciate it if you let me know. You don’t need my permission; I’d just like to know if anyone finds it useful.
Hopefully I’ll have some more old Japanese animation to post in the near future.