LAS VEGAS — I literally wandered into the invitation-only Casio press conference by mistake, having left a Ford event, ducked under a curtain and found a packed room. Toshihara Okimoro, Casio’s senior general manager of signage, was on the podium with a few gals to serve as his Vanna Whites.

What they unveiled seemed deeply weird to me, and intensely Japanese. You know those cartoons like "Speed Racer" where the lips move and the eyelids blink but everything else is unnaturally wooden? That was Casio’s new “realistic animated messages” to a T. For $10,000, the store owner buys this machine that takes still photos and makes them “talk” with a synthesized voice. Not talk well, but talk. In a bunch of languages, too: English, Spanish, Korean, whatever you want.

We saw chefs, ice cream people, a talking bull, all of them unintentionally hilarious. I’ve been to Japan twice recently, and I saw a lot of things like this in store windows. Okimoro said this was the key to “getting ahead of the competition” and getting them in the store.” Sure, in Japan. Americans are likely to head for the hills. Of course, if you're a big anime fan (and the U.S. does have legions of them), this is all totally normal.

Tech Radar wrote:

Casio demonstrated a grocer introducing his fresh produce, a male model hawking his apparel, a chef talking up his Italian cuisine. By far, the most interesting Casio digital signage demo was a talking hamburger that was cutesying up its fast food. This talented burger could speak in a variety of languages including English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish.
If you don’t believe me about how strange this is, watch the video I shot:

If for some reason you didn't spend Saturday mornings glued to "Speed Racer," here's a taste — the 1967 theme song:

Here’s an explanation of of all this I found on an animation site:

In anime, the Japanese studios create the animation first, and then record the voices. This means that characters’ mouth often just moves up and down, however, the larger the animation budget, the more effort animation studios make to make the lip flaps match the dialogue ("Honey and Clover" is a good example with mouth flaps that match the lines perfectly). With American cartoons, the voices are recorded first and the animation is built around them. This means the mouths move in a manner much more consistent with the dialogue, at the cost of making it more difficult to translate into another language. This difference can be very clearly seen in the English dub of Akira, a Japanese animated movie which, unusually, recorded the voices before the animation and took pains to make the mouth flaps match the dialogue. The result is that the English version looks distinctly off. Ironically, live-action dub scripts are easier to write because the natural movements of the mouth while speaking are a lot more vague than in cartoons.

OK, I’m buying that. If you’re used to Japanese animation, it looks normal. Otherwise, well, it’s distinctly weird.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

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