Benshi Performance

A few weekends ago, we went to see a benshi performance with Midori Sawato, one of the greatest living benshi.

As that article I linked describes, the benshi is a narrator for Japanese silent films – usually accompanied with a traditional orchestra, sort of like a kabuki performance. However, unlike in a kabuki or even a western narrator, the benshi does all the voices in the story. In the days of silent film, the benshi was more of an attraction than the film itself- since the emphasis of entertainment was on the artist’s live performance.

So, the Castro Theater was showing “The Dragon Painter” (starring Sessue Hayakawa) as a part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The musical accompanyment was by the Mark Izu Ensemble, and the whole performance will be available on DVD from Milestone Films in 2004.

The performance was very cool but not quite as “Japanese” as I would have liked, which probably makes sense because it was filmed in Yosemite by an American hakujin crew led by a Japanese-American. Part of what makes benshi movies interesting to me is the zany, animistic feeling you get from the shots and the story.

We did get a special treat though – Sawato Sensei performed another piece, a short samurai story, which she wrote and performed entirely in English. The film looked to be from the 1920s, and was jerky and extremely melodramatic. The samurai is an antihero involved in I believe the civil war that began the Meiji Restoration. Of course he dies in the end…

The short was entertaining enough, but the narration definitely made the movie- my favorite parts were her serious intonations of

“…and turned the temple into a blood-stained battleground”


“he wrote his epitaph, in his blood!!!

Something I didn’t know until the performance is that traditionally, benshi wrote their own scripts, and not necessarily with the original intentions of the filmmakers in mind. In this sense, the benshi is much more like a bard than a simple actor or narrator.

Entertainment Industry Foundation

A foundation sponsoring various causes, with well-known celebrities and prominent ad campaigns… because, well, it is the entertainment industry, and self-promotion is their business.

The Entertainment Industry Foundation responds to some of the most critical needs facing our society. We help raise awareness and funds for important causes such as childhood hunger, cancer research, creative arts, education, cardiovascular research, and much more.

Web link of note: Entertainment Industry Foundation

Circle of Friends

When I first saw this, I totally thought it was a cult. The name of it is “Circle of Friends” and the URL is “join the circle”… cult imagery. If I didn’t know better I would say it was a practical joke.

And it still might be! It also might be sponsored by an actual cult, especially considering the celebrities they got involved… I have no idea.

What it is: evangelical non-smoking. Really! You even get a little symbol to wear on your wrist.
Web link of note: Circle of Friends