Thursday, October 10, 2019

Benshi screening: Chushingura (1910–1917) (2019 digital restoration, National Film Archive of Japan)

Benshi screening Chushingura (1910). Foto di: Valerio Greco. Teatro Verdi, 10 Oct 2019. Source: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019 / Flickr.

Benshi screening Chushingura (1910). Benshi: Ichiro Kataoka. Musicians: Ayumi Kamiya, Yasumi Miyazawa, Masayoshi Tanaka. Foto di: Valerio Greco. Teatro Verdi, 10 Oct 2019. Source: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019 / Flickr.

Chushingura (19101917)

JP c. 19101917
regia/dir: Makino Shozo.
cast: Onoe Matsunosuke (Asano Takuminokami; Oishi Kuranosuke; Shimizu Ichigaku), Kataoka Ichinojo (Kira Kozukenosuke), Arashi Kiraku (Kataoka Gengoemon; Tachibana Sakon), Otani Kijaku (Wakisaka Awajinokami; Murakami Kiken; proprietario del ristorante di soba/soba restaurant owner), Kataoka Ichitaro (il figlio maggiore di Oishi/Oishi’s eldest son; il figlio del proprietario del ristorante di soba/soba restaurant owner’s son).
prod: Yokota Shokai, Nikkatsu.
copia/copy: DCP, 90′ (inclusa demo restauro iniziale/including restoration demo at the beginning; da/from 35 mm, 16 fps, parzialmente imbibito/partially tinted); did./titles: JPN.
fonte/source: National Film Archive of Japan, Tokyo.
Restauro digitale/Digital restoration 2019.
Benshi: Ichiro Kataoka
Musicians: Ayumi Kamiya, Yasumi Miyazawa, Masayoshi Tanaka
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 10 Oct 2019.

Mika Tomita (GCM): "Chushingura represents one of the collaborations between director Makino Shozo (18781929), the father of Japanese film, and actor Onoe Matsunosuke (18751926), Japan’s first movie star. From 1907 to 1925, around sixty “Chushingura” films were produced. This digitally restored version, the longest, also contains the oldest existing “Chushingura” film, dating from 1910."

"“Chushingura” is the generic term for a series of stories that originated in an actual historical event in March 1701, during the Edo Era, which took place in the Great Pine Corridor of Edo Castle, the residence of the Tokugawa Shogun. Asano Naganori (Asano Takuminokami), the lord of Ako Castle in western Japan, bloodily attacked Kira Yoshihisa (Kira Kozukenosuke). Kira came from a powerful family who had often insulted Asano in public for his country-bred clumsiness. The Tokugawa Shogunate, who forbade violence in Edo Castle, punished Asano for his savage act by ordering him to commit hara-kiri, and then terminated the Asano clan, while Kira’s provocations went unpunished. Asano’s retainers were unhappy with this decision, and, having lost their master, became ronin (vagrants). The 47 ronin, led by Oishi Yoshio (Oishi Kuranosuke), attacked Kira’s residence before daybreak on 31 January 1703 (14 December 1702 in the old Japanese calendar). The story ends with the 47 ronin being sentenced to death by hara-kiri."

"This saga of loyalty and revenge has been popular with the Japanese people for generations, and has been repeatedly depicted in a variety of media: Kabuki, Joruri, film, television, and literature. Many “Chushingura” films starring Onoe Matsunosuke were released as “new” films, patched together from scenes of previous releases. One of these, produced by Yokota Shokai in 1910, was the first film to show the entire “Chushingura” tale from beginning to end. This digitally restored version used as source material the following three prints, which are believed to have been mainly edited from the scenes of the 1910 film: the 42-minute benshi-narrated talkie version of Chushingura in the collection of the National Film Archive of Japan (35 mm, b&w); the 74-minute benshi-narrated talkie version of Jitsuroku Chushingura (35 mm, b&w) stored at Matsuda Film Productions; and the 49-minute version of Chushingura on nitrate (35mm, tinted) discovered by benshi Ichiro Kataoka, who will narrate the film in person in Pordenone."

"The Kataoka version became the main source for our restoration, as it is silent full-frame, without a trace of stretched frames, and the closest generation to the original negative. We decided to keep the cuts presumably added from the films produced after 1910 to respect its present state, which reflects the film’s history and continual changes in both form and popularity."

"Synopsis: In 1701, Asano Takuminokami, in charge of receiving Imperial envoys in Edo, is repeatedly harassed by his instructor Kira Kozukenosuke in various ways. When Kira confirms the preparation of a reception venue, Asano is made to lose face, but keeps his temper. On the day of a reception at Edo Castle, Asano, following Kira’s suggestion, dresses informally and embarrasses himself. After changing to formal dress, Asano begs Kira for advice on the feast, but is insulted. Finally, Asano slashes Kira between the eyebrows, and is restrained. The Tokugawa Shogunate orders Asano to commit hara-kiri and surrender Ako Castle. Asano leaves a farewell poem filled with anger and sorrow with his retainer, Kataoka Gengoemon."

"Oishi Kuranosuke, the chief retainer of Ako Castle, resenting the Shogun’s decision, firmly makes up his mind and those of the remaining 46 retainers to avenge Asano’s death. Oishi hands over Ako Castle, but keeps the written pledge of revenge sealed with the blood of the 47 ronin."

"To mislead people, Oishi indulges himself in the Geisha houses of Kyoto. Even when ronin from other regions propose vengeance, he feigns ignorance. His wife returns to her parents’ home, leaving her debauched husband and their eldest son."

"Oishi heads to Edo under the name of Tachibana Sakon, a palace official. At an inn, the real Tachibana appears. Oishi shows him a blank letter identifying himself as Tachibana. Tachibana suspects a revenge plan, but to support the plot says that he himself is the fake Tachibana. Oishi visits Asano’s widow. Suspecting a servant is a spy, he doesn’t tell her his true intentions, and simply leaves the pledge of the 47 ronin."

"In 1703, the 47 ronin secretly gather at a soba restaurant, and then head to Kira’s residence. During the attack, Shimizu Ichigaku, a master swordsman on Kira’s side, loses his life. Kira is found hiding in a coal shed and is killed. The 47 ronin go to Asano’s grave to report the completion of their long- cherished plan." Mika Tomita (GCM)

AA: I know I was crazy to walk out of Chushingura having seen the first fifteen minutes. It was enough for me to be convinced that this was the best ever benshi experience I have attended. And that this show was one of a handful of the greatest highlights at this year's Le Giornate.

But the film started at a delay of 45 minutes, at 18.45, and I was determined to stay for the forthcoming night screenings (indeed, they lasted until past one o'clock after midnight). Something had to give. The delay had started in the morning's Pat and Patachon show when the screening was interrupted due to a medical emergency.

I appreciated the perfect balance of the benshi and the orchestra with three musicians playing traditional instruments.

The film itself is in relentless early cinema mode: long takes, long shots, plan-séquence. Because the visual quality is duped and in low definition, it is impossible to tell one character from another.

Here is where the benshi saves everything. The screening was literally benshi-driven, and Ichiro Kataoka is a master. He understands drama, he understands comedy, he understands the drive and the nuance in the filmed kabuki. I wish I'll have a second chance to experience this earliest film adaptation of Chushingura.

The benshi performed in Japanese, and there was electronic subtitling in English and Italian.

A blogger colleague stated that for the first time there was a feeling of almost understanding what this is all about. I agree.


I saw in Bologna in 2012 a Katsuben Talkie version of Chushingura (1910-1912). Visually it was terrible and it had been sonorized at sound speed (at that speed it ran 42 minutes), but it revealed the promise of an electrifying movie.


AA Facebook capsule:

I was crazy to walk out of Chushingura having seen the first fifteen minutes. It was enough for me to be convinced that this was the best ever benshi experience I have attended. And that this show was one of a handful of the greatest highlights at this year's Le Giornate. But this was a superlong day with hardly a break due to a force majeure incident in the morning, and something had to give.

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