My Cinematheque choice this week is An Inn at Tokyo (Friday, November 16, 7:30 pm). Okay, this event might be off-putting at first glance. It’s silent. It’s Japanese. It’s in black and white. But it’s made by the great Yasujiro Ozu, who directed Late Spring and Tokyo Story, among others, and it features a benshi. Chances are pretty good we’ll never get another chance to see, or hear, one of these.
A benshi is a silent film narrator. In Japan, silent films extended longer into the ‘30’s than here in the U.S., not because the Japanese lacked sound technology, but because the benshi were so popular. They would tell the story as it unfolded, and their skill made them popular in their own right. People would flock to see benshi stars. At this screening, Ichiro Kataoka will do the honors. He’s an actor traveling in this country demonstrating this almost-lost art. He narrates in Japanese, but the film retains the English titles and also a music score.
If this sounds intimidating, consider that the benshi were highly popular among ordinary people, not the cultural elite. Consider also that this film is only 80 minutes long. Most important, it’s a unique opportunity.
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