Sunday, January 10, 2016


Tonight, TCM is spending the overnight hours with Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. I have to admit that I don't know much about him, and am not certain if I've seen any of his movies. I'd have to look of his filmography to see since when it comes to Japanese directors I'm not all that conversant on which director did which movie. Anyhow, TCM is not only using him for their Imports slot, but also for the Silent Sunday Nights slot, the film A Story of Floating Weeds, which is from 1934.

Notice the date. 1934 is well after the introduction of sound films in Hollywood and most of the rest of the world. Obviously it was going to take a bit of time for the technology to make its way around the world, but it turns out there's a very specific reason it took so long for sound film to take off in Japan. That's down to the Japanese use of a benshi.

The benshi, a concept taken from kabuki, was a sort of narrator. Where a western silent film would have intertitles, the Japanese would have a narrator at the side of the stage explaining the events and filing in the dialogue for the viewers, generally handling all of the characters regardless of age or sex. Because of this, Japanese cinema didn't particularly need dialogue on film the way that Hollywood movies really benefitted from it. And since Japanese filmmakers knew fully well that their films were going to be presented by a benshi, they could make their films with that in mind, allowing them to go on making silent films longer.

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