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.