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UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities present

The Art of the Benshi

A Japanese swordsman fighting a group of men.
April 19, 2024 -
April 21, 2024
Live narration by benshi Ichirō Kataoka, Kumiko Ōmori and Hideyuki Yamashiro.

During the silent film era in Japan, which extended into the early 1930s, film screenings were accompanied by live narrators, called benshi. Full-fledged artists in their own right, benshi familiarized and enlivened the cinema experience in Japan through expressive performances that illuminated and extended the emotional and thematic range of the works on screen. Benshi such as Tokugawa Musei, Ikukoma Raiyfi and Nakamura Koenami became stars, drawing loyal audiences and commanding high salaries from exhibitors. 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. In 2019, the Archive was honored to host a weekend of silent film screenings accompanied by some of the leading benshi today. This year, the Archive is thrilled to partner again with the UCLA Yanai Initiative to host another weekend of silent film screenings and benshi performances, this time in conjunction with a first-of-its-kind national tour that will bring this rare experience to audiences across the country. Pairing rare prints and new restorations of Japanese classics, this weekend-long series features three of Japan’s most renowned contemporary benshi, Ichirō Kataoka, Kumiko Ōmori and Hideyuki Yamashiro, performing their unique art live on stage in Japanese with English subtitles. Every performance and screening will be accompanied by a musical ensemble with traditional Japanese instrumentation.

Watch the trailer:

Special thanks to the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum at Waseda University, National Film Archive of Japan.


Special thanks to our community partners: Broadway West, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, Japanese American National Museum, Japan Foundation Los Angeles, JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles.

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