“Benshi reveal that early twentieth century Japan was not all about politics and war: It was also about challenging moral propriety, living life to its full hedonistic fullest, and having fun.” – Jeffrey Dym (Dym 228)
This site aims to educate viewers who are interested in silent film and Japanese culture. Through historical overviews, scholarly analysis, and the use of new media, viewers will gain a new understanding of the benshi institution that helped shape the local and global film industry and became a uniquely defining characteristic of Japanese tradition.
The benshi were, first and foremost, narrators of silent films. Over time, however, their social position and purpose evolved alongside the rapid growth of early 20th century Japan. They became entertainers, they fell as symbols of hedonistic decadence, they rose as social educators, and they were exalted and preserved as pure cultural elements of a country struggling to emerge and find a place on the stage of the new world.
Although their Golden Age was short-lived, their impact was not. The influence of the benshi extended through their reign and beyond their demise and is felt even now as film and oral tradition continue to change and coevolve with other forms of new media and performance arts.
Both praised and condemned, the benshi guided the development of the film industry. They were as much the products of history as the makers of it, these poets of the dark.