Kobayashi who aspired to produce a wholesome and

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Unformatted text preview: on the emotive skills of the benshi or “narrators,” who described the stories on the screen. Although their art appears to be little remembered by Japanese today, the benshi of the silent-screen era were in their day regarded as major performers, and some even achieved star status comparable to the cinema’s leading actors. There are no analogs to the benshi in Western cinematic history. Western film exhibitors in the early years of motion pictures experimented with narrators posted near the screen, but the practice of live narration for silent pictures never proved popular with Western audiences. Characterized as “poets of the dark” by one scholar of their role in the history of Japanese film,27 the benshi were charged with explaining the events and action of the stories of silent films and, most important, with infusing the films with emotion to “bring them alive.” A great benshi could, in the language of the theatre, upstage the film itself, attracting audiences that were more intent upon hearing him than viewing the screen. Most of the films produced to meet the demands for mass entertainment in the 1920s were, needless to say, of very little artistic merit; a great many were of the bombastic chambara or samurai “swordplay” type, the equivalent of the stereotyped American Western. Still, some people sought to do original work and became pioneers in a tradition of serious filmmaking that has earned much international recognition in recent years, particularly for the way in which Japanese directors have used the motion picture as a means to express their native, highly refined aesthetic tastes. The most fundamental characteristic of the cinema is, of course, its visuality, and the history of film is to a great extent the story of how directors evolved methods for exploiting to the fullest the unrelentingly realistic “eye of the camera.” For the Japanese, with their exceptional sensitivity to nature and to the life of man within rather than against it, the The Fruits of Modernity 293 cinema proved to be a uniquely congenial artistic medium. Th...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at UBC.

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