Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on Youtube Join the Archive Mailing List Read our Blog

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

The Art of the Benshi

A man wielding a Japanese sword against a group of men.
April 5, 2024 -
April 26, 2024

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. 

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

Watch the trailer:

“Benshi Performers Pass Along a Way of Thinking”—Hyperallergic

‘The Art of the Benshi’ is coming to Chicago: A lost page in movie history, rediscoveredChicago Tribune


Tour dates

April 5–7, 2024

Brooklyn, New York

BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

April 12–14, 2024

Washington, D.C.

National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution

April 16–17, 2024

Chicago, IL

Gene Siskel Film Center

April 19, 2024

Los Angeles, CA

The United Theater on Broadway (formerly The Theatre at Ace Hotel)

April 20–21, 2024

Los Angeles, CA

UCLA Film & Television Archive, Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum

April 26, 2024

Tokyo, Japan

Ōkuma Auditorium, Waseda University