Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ichiro Kataoka, a benshi of a new generation

Teatro Verdi (Pordenone, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), 10 October 2013.

Johan Nordström: "A major attraction of this year’s festival is the first Pordenone appearance of Ichiro Kataoka, Japan’s charismatic new star benshi."

"It is often said that silent films were never really silent, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of the Japanese silent cinema. Although the practice of silent film narration was a global phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century, it quickly died away in most countries. In Japan, by contrast, it developed into the verbal art of setsumei, the art of storytelling as performed by the benshi, which would include narrating the screen action, giving voice to the different characters, explaining the plot, and adding further depth and meaning to the scenes through commentary."

"The highly expressive performances of benshi were so popular in the 1910s that they were frequently both better paid and more heavily advertised than the director or leading actors of the films, and their presence must be taken into consideration in order to arrive at a full understanding of the style that the Japanese silent cinema achieved and how that cinema was experienced. As Michael Raine has commented, “Benshi told studios what films to make, signaled the orchestra when to be quiet, and even controlled the projection speed. Filmgoing in Japan, even more than elsewhere, was truly a multi-media experience.”"

"With the advent of “talkie” films in the late 1920s and 1930s, the profession all but died out, but a small number of benshi managed to keep the art form alive. Even after the war, a number of benshi continued to perform. Among these was Shunsui Matsuda (1925-1987), who founded a silent film archive, and eventually came to train the famous master benshi Midori Sawato, who appeared at the Giornate in 1990 and 2001."

"Ichiro Kataoka was the star pupil of Midori Sawato, from whom he received his formal training, and he thus stands in a direct, century-old line of descent from the benshi of the first days of Japanese cinema. As a benshi, he has performed extensively in Japan and in Europe, Australia, and the United States, and he often works as a voice actor in animation and video games. He is also a scholar of early cinema and a collector of benshi recordings, and is currently visiting the University of Bonn as a research assistant and performer."

"Showing the full range of styles that the benshi had to master, Kataoka-san will not only perform two Japanese period film fragments and a modern-day drama, but also a classic Buster Keaton comedy." Johan Nordström (The GCM Catalogue)

AA: I agree with Johan Nordström's account above: a new benshi with a full range of expressions from wild samurai action to a Buster Keaton comedy classic to a tale of love between two women.

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