Musashi Mix Inq

Benshi (The Narrator)

Posted on November 29, 2010

Benshi (The Narrator), ©MMX

As Tokyo burns, we turn to the Benshi ; the box-seat view of Ragnarök—

The silent film era of Japan existed as an extension of the classic theater structure borrowed from Noh and Kabuki drama. The lack of dialogue was filled by live instrumentals and the voice of the Benshi 弁士 (narrator). In many ways, the Benshi was more than what his title first suggests. His job was not only to convey plot and dialogue, but to play as the interpreter of cutting edge technology to the masses. In a culture where photographs steal pieces of your soul, the introduction of film seemed malevolently occult.

The original film projectors required 5 engineers to run. The behemoth machines were loud, unreliable and could produce enough heat to set the film-reel aflame, “It’s all part of the show, folks!” — Despite the technical wizardry required to screen a film, it was up to the Benshi to project the illusion that formed the raw images and orchestration into a narrative.

In Japan’s silent film era, movie houses were not famous for what films they were showing. The selection was limited and yet the demand was high. This was the era of the Benshi. All films became scratch material for talented performance artists (much like the recent “Downfall” meme). Although the images remained the same, you could never see the same film twice.

True storytellers are not subject to content.


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