During the silent film era in Japan, which extended into the early 1930s, film screenings were accompanied by live narrators, called benshi. In the industry’s early years, benshi functioned much in the way scientific lecturers did in early American and European cinema, providing simple explanations about the new medium and the moving images on screen. Soon, however, benshi developed into full-fledged performers in their own right, enlivening the cinema experience with expressive word, gesture and music. Each with their own highly refined personal style, they deftly narrated action and dialogue to illuminate—and often to invent—emotions and themes that heightened the audience’s connection to the screen. Loosely related to the style of kabuki theater in which vocal intonation and rhythm carries significant meaning and feeling, benshi evolved in its golden age, between 1926-1931, as an art form unto itself. Well-established benshi such as Tokugawa Musei, Ikukoma Raiyfi, and Nakamura Koenami were treated as stars, reviewed by critics, featured in profiles (in 1909, the first issue of one of Japan’s earliest film journals featured a benshi on its cover) and commanded high salaries from exhibitors. The prominence and significant cultural influence of benshi prompted the government to try to regulate their practice, instituting a licensing system in 1917 and attempts were made to enhance their role as “educators” through training programs overseen by the Ministry of Education. The benshi were not without controversy, however. While some contemporary critics argued that the benshi were essential to differentiating Japanese film culture from the rest of the world’s output, others argued that the benshi, along with other theatrical elements, impeded the artistic and technical evolution of Japanese cinema into a fully modern art form. Benshi did vigorously resist the coming of sound to Japanese cinema and the practice continued, though with increasing rarity, into the sound era. The art, today, is carried on by a small group of specialized performers who have been apprenticed by the preceding generations of benshi, creating a continuous lineage back to the original performers.
The Archive and the Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities are pleased to present this major benshi event in Los Angeles which will afford audiences a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience this unique art form in all its rich textures. Pairing rare prints of Japanese classics and new restorations of American masterworks, this weekend-long series features performances by three of Japan’s most renowned contemporary benshi, Kataoka Ichirō, Sakamoto Raikō, and Ōmori Kumiko. Trained by benshi masters of the previous generation, they will each perform their unique art live on stage in Japanese (with English subtitles) to multiple films over the course of the weekend. Every performance and screening will be accompanied by a musical ensemble with traditional Japanese instrumentation, featuring Yuasa Jōichi (conductor, shamisen), Tanbara Kaname (piano), Furuhashi Yuki (violin), Suzuki Makiko (flute), Katada Kisayo (drums).
Special thanks to the Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum at Waseda University and the Top Global University Project, Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Waseda University (MEXT Grant), National Film Archive of Japan.
I’ve always loved old school screenings of silent films, but I’ve never experienced benshi. This sounds like it could be pretty cool and definitely unique as its own artform.
Join students and alumni from the Film and Media Studies Program in Culver City
I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of an Intersession course by the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. I hope fellow alumni in the entertainment and media sectors will come out and join us in Culver City on Thursday.
Join the Hopkins in Hollywood Affinity Group (AEME LA) as they welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the JHU Film and Media Studies Program, and current students of the program for a dynamic evening of networking which features an alumni panel of industry experts.
Open to alumni, students, and friends of Hopkins, this event is sponsored by Donald Kurz (A&S ’77), Johns Hopkins University Emeritus Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and the Hopkins in Hollywood (AEME LA) Affinity Group.
Event Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 8:30pm
Donald Kurz, A&S ’77
Donald Kurz is Chairman and CEO of Omelet LLC, an innovative new media and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles. Previously, Mr. Kurz was co-founder and CEO of hedge fund Artemis Capital Partners. Between 1990 and 2005, Mr. Kurz was Chairman, President, and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, Inc, a global, NASDAQ-traded company providing Fortune 500 companies with strategic and marketing services internationally. Mr. Kurz’s 25 years’ experience in senior leadership includes management positions with Willis Towers Watson, PwC, and the J.C. Penney Company. Mr. Kurz is a Trustee Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University, having served for 12 years on the Hopkins board. He received an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Johns Hopkins University.
Jason Altman, A&S ’99
Jason Altman is an Executive Producer at Activision working on the Skylanders franchise and new development projects. Prior to Activision, he spent the past 5 years at Ubisoft Paris in different leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Producer of Just Dance, the #1 music video game franchise. He is a veteran game producer who loves the industry, and is a proud graduate of the media studies program at Johns Hopkins.
Paul Harris Boardman, A&S ’89
Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Devil’s Knot (2014), both of which he also produced, and Deliver Us From Evil (2014), which he also executive produced. In 2008, Paul produced The Day the Earth Stood Still for Fox, and he did production rewrites on Poltergeist,Scream 4, The Messengers, and Dracula 2000, as well as writing and directing the second unit for Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) and writing Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000). Paul has written screenplays for various studios and production companies, including Trimark, TriStar, Phoenix Pictures, Miramax/Dimension, Disney, Bruckheimer Films, IEG, APG, Sony, Lakeshore, Screen Gems, Universal and MGM.
Devon Chivvis, A&S ’96
Devon Chivvis is a showrunner/director/producer of narrative and non-fiction television and film. Inspired by a life-long passion for visual storytelling combined with a love of adventure and the exploration of other cultures, Devon has made travel a priority through her work in film and television. Devon holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations and French, with a minor in Italian.
Chris Aldrich, Engr ’96
Chris started his career at Hopkins while running several movie groups on campus and was responsible for over $200,000 of renovations in Shriver Hall including installing a new screen, sound system, and 35mm projection while also running the 29th Annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” on the 100th anniversary of the moving picture.
Following Hopkins he joined Creative Artists Agency where he worked in Motion Picture Talent and also did work in music-crossover. He later joined Davis Entertainment with a deal at 20th Century Fox where he worked on the productions of Heartbreakers, Dr. Dolittle 2, Behind Enemy Lines as well as acquisition and development of Alien v. Predator, Paycheck, Flight of the Phoenix, Garfield, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I, Robot and countless others.
Missing the faster pace of representation, he later joined Writers & Artists Agency for several years working in their talent, literary, and book departments. Since that time he’s had his own management company focusing on actors, writers, authors, and directors. Last year he started Boffo Socko Books, an independent publishing company and recently put out the book Amerikan Krazy.
Students will have the opportunity to spend one week in Los Angeles with Film and Media Studies Director Linda DeLibero. Students will meet and network with JHU alums in the entertainment industry, as well as heads of studios and talent agencies, screenwriters, directors, producers, and various other individuals in film and television. Associated fee with this intersession course is $1400 (financial support is available for those who qualify). Permission of Linda DeLibero is required. Film and Media Studies seniors and juniors will be given preference for the eight available slots, followed by senior minors.Students are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on January 8. The actual course runs January 9-13 with lodging check-in on January 8 and check-out on January 14.
It’s almost like they write some of this stuff just for me. Though I was already aware of most of the movies they mentioned, they did miss a few:
Washington Square (1997) directed by Agnieszka Holland in Hollywood Pictures/Caravan Pictures production has a stunning cameo of the interior of the Peabody Library – this cameo is the only reason I vaguely remember the film at all.
The Johns Hopkins Science Review (1948-1955) This production is also particularly notable as being the television debut (October 8, 1951) of actor and alum John Astin who now heads the JHU Drama program and for whom the eponymous theater in the Merrick Barn is named.
Fratricide (1966) – A very independent short black and white film (with no credits) starring professor Richard Macksey that was produced by a group of students which included later Hollywood luminaries Walter Murch (who just a few years later co-wrote THX 1138 with George Lucas), Caleb Deschanel, and Matthew Robbins, who coincidentally co-wrote Crimson Peak with Guillermo del Torro which comes out in theaters today.
I have a nagging feeling there are a few more, but they’re just not coming to me at the moment…
By the way, for those suffering through Head of State, you should know in advance that the Shriver Hall scene doesn’t appear until the very end of the movie and then plays through the credits.