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August 23, 2003

Posted by Teresa at 11:30 AM *

I do believe this Japanese print, circa 1863, qualifies as the earliest known example of popular four-color narrative art featuring a bug-eyed monster, a menaced human, and a caption which more or less translates as Resistance Is Futile.

The print, by Kawanabe Kyf4sai, is part of the Images and Literary Sources section of the Library of Congress’s online exhibition of Ukiyo-e. The Images and Literary Sources section is the most fun, because it talks about the stories that go with the prints.

Here are a few more specimens from it: One of the 47 Faithful Ronin, from the story which we know (if we know it at all) as Chushingura. Another image from that cycle shows the backstage area after hours at a bunraku puppet theatre, where two of the puppet-antagonists are still going at each other. A favorite image of mine, one I’ve blogged before, imagines the famous heroes of the kabuki stage as frogs. And here’s an almost startlingly accomplished little drawing of Fukurokujo, the deity of longevity.

Have a look at the whole thing. It’s pleasant browsing on a hot day.

Comments on Ukiyo-EC:
#1 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 05:38 PM:

Or, as the Vogon Guard said (and he got there first), "Resistance is useless!"

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 06:01 PM:

Oooh, what a gaffe! It's "resistance is futile" -- everybody knows that!

#3 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2003, 06:23 PM:

Actually (and please bear with me, my Japanese is lousy) it comes across as "Did you truly believe you had the least hope against me, mortal? Am I not the great destroyer? Does my name not mean He Whose Limbs Shatter Mountains and Whose Back Scrapes the Sun? It shakes in the terror, mortal ones, for have I not the arms of a fish, the teeth of a wolf, and am I not the friend of old marvels?"

The less literal translation seems to be, "Tremble with fear, earthlings, for am I not Fin Fang Foom?"

#4 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 01:08 AM:

Ah! The hazards of fast food!

The caption at the LC site says this "depicts a pair of long-necked goblins who have bound a helpless noodle customer, and, judging by their opened mouths and extended tongues, are about [to] make a meal of him. It is unlikely he will survive the ordeal. The caption states, 'Let yourself get bound up by whatever is long,' or, 'Resistance is futile.'"

#5 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 01:41 AM:

Glenn, that's a pretty esoteric (set of) reference(s); I remember that issue (and the acronym) without the link, but I'm not sure how many others here will....

And as Teresa will tell you, when I think a ref is obscure, you're playing to the edge of the fringe (as the manager of the Flying Karamazov Brothers said about SF convention audiences laughing hardest at the phrase "With Byzantine simplicity...").


#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 01:53 AM:

Actually, climbing on the High Horse of Arrant Pedantry (which is notoriously difficult to stable, or put up), the chance that this was "four-color" is pretty minimal. Color Japanese woodblock prints can use (literally) hundreds of blocks, and it's much more likely that this was in the 20-50 block range (each the equivalent of a different color) than that it was in the four-block range. Not having seen the original, and not being an expert, I wouldn't hazard a guess as to the actual number -- but I'd bet you at lottery odds that it was more than four "colors".

I'll climb back down now.

Tom (tired now, need sleep)

#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 01:56 AM:

"...are about to make a meal of him. It is unlikely he will survive the ordeal."

No, that trick only works with big fish.

#8 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 03:03 AM:

Tom, it has to be an esoteric translation-- by 1863, Japan had gotten past its futile era.

#9 ::: David Elworthy ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 08:11 PM:

I like the way the people in the top left hand corner are watching a flat panel, wall mounted TV. I hadn't realized the Japanese electronics industry had got going so early.

#10 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 08:49 AM:

David, I always liked the first panel of a "Herman" Sunday page I once read: two cavemen are staring at the fire, and one says, "I wonder what people did in the evening before they invented fire."

#11 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 12:30 AM:

Lois, that sounds like narrative for a Discovery-Channel-type nature documentary.

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