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Indiana University

Programs & Events

Special Events

Japanese “Silents”: Benshi Narration of the Sword-Fighting Film Serpent

January 21, 2010
Fine Arts 015

7:00 p.m. Introduction by Larry Greenberg
7:15 p.m. Film Screening of Orochi
  Shown with English subtitles, a music soundtrack, and benshi film narration by Raiko Sakamoto
8:30 p.m. Open Discussion

Orochi (Serpent) (74 mins.)
Produced by Bantsuma Production, 1925; Directed by Buntaro Futagawa
Cast: Tsumasaburo Bando, Misao Seki, Utako Tamaki

Scene from Orochi
Scene from Orochi

The East Asian Studies Center presents a special performance of the Japanese silent sword-fighting film Orochi (Serpent), featuring benshi (silent film narrator) Raiko Sakamoto, followed by a discussion with Larry Greenberg, a leader in the development of a digital archive of masterpieces from Japanese cinema’s Golden Era.

Hailed as a “cornerstone” production in Japanese film history, Orochi features the premier star of chambara (sword fighting) films, Tsumasaburo Bando (1901-1953). The boom in Japanese chambara film started around 1910, and the sword fights of its earliest examples were performed with a slow grace reminiscent of a kabuki performance. The young actor Tsumasaburo Bando, who made his debut in 1923, completely changed this style of sword fighting with his speedy action. Orochi, produced by Bando’s own production company, applied these new sword-fighting techniques to a new kind of story—the action scenes highlight the tragic beauty of a samurai who falls on hard times due to misunderstandings.

Scene from Orochi
Scene from Orochi

This screening of Orochi will feature Mr. Raiko Sakamoto performing as benshi. In Japan, screenings of silent films were accompanied by narration by a katsudo benshi, or motion picture narrator. So, they were rarely “silent.” This was particularly true for chambara (sword-fighting) films, which were also accompanied by music and were hugely popular. At the climax sword-fighting scene of a chambara film, the audience would yell to the screen, the benshi would raise his voice, and musicians would perform with heightened inspiration. Come join Mr. Sakamoto as he recreates this experience!

This event is brought to IU with the assistance of Digital Meme, Tokyo, with funding from the East Asian Studies Center, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, the Department of Communication and Culture, and the Film and Media Studies Program.

Larry Greenberg

Since arriving in Japan in 1985, Larry Greenberg, a native New Yorker, has studied the development of Japanese cinema. Through the two companies that he founded, Urban Connections and Digital Meme, he has diligently worked to preserve the remaining silent films that represent the glory of that Golden Era and to package them in a digital format that will allow present and future film lovers an opportunity to experience katsuben, the performing art in which filmed images were accompanied by live music and narrated by benshi.