Silent Film Screening, with Katsuben and Musical Accompaniment, to Tour Switzerland and Spain

Starting from May 30, the Japan Foundation is presenting silent film screenings, with katsudo benshi or katsuben (live narration for silent films) and musical accompaniment, in two cities in Switzerland, a country celebrating 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan in 2014, and in three cities in Spain. The titles to be screened are Kodakara Sodo(Kid Commotion) and Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi (Jirokichi the Rat).

With the aim of introducing overseas audiences “katsuben,” a very unique aspect of Japanese film culture, the Japan Foundation dispatches katsudo benshi Raiko Sakamoto and musician Joichi Yuasa (shamisen and guitar).The event offers an opportunity to enjoy the moment a katsuben and a musician bring life into silent film masterpieces.

During the silent film era in Japan, films were screened with musical accompaniment as well as live narration and commentary by a katsudo benshi who also lent his or her voice to films- characters, standing on the side of the screen. Although a katsuben’s role is now replaced by sound films (talkies), katsuben practitioners have been passing down their techniques to this day, promoting the custom as an important part of Japanese culture that should be preserved.

At the three venues in Spain, the expert in film and Japanese culture Nieves Moreno will give a lecture, too.



Date Friday, May 30, 2014 6:15 p.m.
Venue Filmpodium (Zurich)
Date Saturday, May 31, 2014 8:30 p.m.
Venue Les Cinemas du Grutli (Geneva)


Date Wednesday, June 4, 2014 8:00 p.m.
Venue Mostra de Cinema Periférico (A Coruña)
Date Friday, June 6, 2014 7:00 p.m.
Venue Filmoteca de Catalunya (Barcelona)
Date Sunday, June 8, 2014 7:00 p.m.
Venue Filmoteca Espanola (Madrid)

Organized by: The Japan Foundation, The Japan Foundation, Madrid (Spain), Embassy of Japan in Switzerland (Switzerland), Swiss-Japanese Society (Switzerland), Mostra de Cinema Periferico (Spain), Filmoteca de Catalunya (Spain), Filmoteca Espanola (Spain)

Sponsored by: All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd.ANA


Raiko Sakamoto (katsudo benshi)

Aspiring to become a comic book writer as a boy, he was greatly influenced and consumed by the works of Shigeru Mizuki. His daily routine was to draw pictures of ghosts and monsters until he was drawn into the world of film during his second year in junior high school. Soon after, he sets his ambition to become a katsuben (silent film narrator). He began his katsuben training in 1997 when he joined a narrative group managed by Matsuda Film Productions. He made his formal debut in December 2000. The main venues of his live katsuben performances include small theaters, mini-movie theaters, welfare facilities, shrines and temples. He has approximately 50 films in his repertoire including films such as Kurama Tengu, Banba no Chutaro Mabuta no Haha (Banba no Chutaro, In Search of Mother), Kunisada Chuji, Kodakara Sodo (Kid Commotion), Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari, and The Adventurer. His passion for drawing suddenly resurfaced in 2004 and starts a new style of performance which involves putting katsuben performance on his self-produced animation work. He is a katsudo benshi who performs both classic and modern works. Currently, he is an independent katsudo benshi. In 2012, he gave a performance at the silent-film screening, held at the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris.

Photo of Raiko Sakamoto (katsudo benshi)

Joichi Yuasa (shamisen and guitar)

After being involved in the music production and performance for The Birth of a Nation directed by D.W. Griffith screened at the 1987 Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), he has engaged himself in the restoration and production of the once lost orchestral music for silent films. He later formed the music ensemble Colored Monotone. He has restored, composed and arranged a number of both Japanese and Western film music, and is giving performances across Japan together with katsudo benshi Midori Sawato. In 2011, he toured with other performers, including katsudo benshi Midori Sawato, and appeared at the silent-film screenings in several venues, such as the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris, the Japan Cultural Institute in Rome, Japanese-German Center Berlin, and Festival des 3 Continents.

Photo of Joichi Yuasa (shamisen and guitar)

Films to be screened

Kodakara Sodo (Kid Commotion,1935, 34 minutes)

Directed by Torajiro Saito
Cast: Shigeru Ogura, Yaeko Izumo, Shotaro Fujimatsu, Akio Nomura

The Fukudas are poor. Poor with lots of children. They are soon to be blessed with their seventh bundle of joy. However, Mr. Fukuda is out of work and can't afford to pay the water bill. They've got a well, so it doesn't really matter when the water gets turned off. The gas too, but they cook rice just as well over an open fire. No problems. But then Mrs. Fukuda goes into labor. Now, that's a problem. Flustered Fukuda rushes off to find a midwife. However, since their six kids' payments behind, there isn't a midwife in town who'll come. In fact, all the midwives in town have rushed over to attend to the birth of the rich baron's pig. "If only my wife had been born a pig..." says Fukuda to himself. He's just got to get some money. He tries borrowing money from the local geisha house - by using his daughter as collateral. No good. Things are looking pretty glum when the wheel of fortune spins Fukuda's way. There's a reward out for the runaway piglet. Charge!! And finally....
*The above plot refers to the Matsuda Film Productions website.

still photograph from Kodakara Sodo

Kodakara Sodo
©Matsuda Film Productions

Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi (Jirokichi the Rat,1931, 65 minutes)

Directed by Daisuke Ito
Cast: Denjiro Okochi, Naoe Fushimi, Nobuko Fushimi, Minoru Takase

To get away from the police in Edo, Jirokichi moves to Osaka and along the way meets Osen, a young woman forced into prostitution by her older brother Nikichi. Although Jirokichi starts living with Osen, his heart goes out to Okino, a poor girl from a fallen samurai family. Jirokichi learns that it was he himself who brought about the collapse of Okino's family when he robbed a rich feudal lord back in Edo. Soon after that, Jirokichi saves Okino from Osen’s older brother Nikichi who was about to use her for his career success. Jirokichi also tries to save Osen, being confined by Nikichi, but Osen drowns herself in river, sacrificing herself for Jirokichi who killed Nikichi. Being on the roof alone, Jirokichi is shedding tears, saying “Osen…. Okino… Look at the sky. It’s a beautiful moon….”
*The above plot refers to the Matsuda Film Productions website.

still photograph from Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi

Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi
©Matsuda Film Productions

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