This website was developed by Sarah Bither '13 and Melissa Yang '14, DHi 2011-2012 CLASS Scholars.

Fun Facts

From 1920-1945, the Japanese made over 11,000 feature films. Only the prints of 2% survive. (Anderson 452)


In 1925, there were 813 movie theaters and 155 million admissions. In 1935, there were 1586 theaters and 202 million admissions. (Anderson 455-456)


No matter which film played or which benshi narrated, the film hero was usually named Jim, the heroine, Mary, and the villain, Robert. (Anderson and Richie 25)


In 1936, there were 5151 registered benshi. In 1937, there were 3726, and by 1939, that number had fallen to 1302. (Dym 258)


Of the films shown, in 1920 4588 reels were American film, 231 European, and 1914 Japanese. In 1925, 9679 were Japanese, 8873 American, and 1023 European. (Dym 251)


In 1918, the smallest theater seated 244, and the largest theater seated 4221. (Dym 50)


The best theaters hired the prettiest female ushers. Trade journals circulated that compared the ushers’ looks and commented on their love lives with theater patrons. (Dym 51)


Day laborers received an average salary of 59 sen/day. First-year elementary teachers: 20 yen. Beginning bankers: 40 yen. A particular 13-year-old girl benshi: 80 yen. Benshi Somei Saburo’s signing bonus: 3000 yen. (Dym 93)


Theater House

A theater house

For a time, audience seating in some theaters were gender segregated to protect virtuous women from wandering hands in the dark theaters. (Dym 123)


In 1925, film represented 71% of mass entertainment. (Dym 134)


Some areas banned certain words, such as masuizai (anesthesia), kissu or seppu (kiss), and dorobo (burgler). These were replaced with nemuri (sleeping medicine), atsuki kuchi zuke (hot mouth touching), and kano akkan (that scoundrel). (Dym 137)


The phrase, “smelled like butter” (batta kusai) was used to describe films too foreign in content and technique. (Dym 157)


Somei Saburo simply inserted the English word “and” into his setsumei and fooled the audience into thinking he was educated and could speak English. (Dym 43)


Benshi sometimes made fun of actors on screen by commenting on their physical appearances. (Kinoshita 25)


1935 marked the sound transition in film: 78% of all theaters were wired for sound, the majority of films produced were sound films, and the top 10 films were all “talkies,” whereas in 1934 eight were silent and six were talkies. (Kinoshita 6)


The audience felt that they were on intimate terms with their favorite benshi and often called out to them in the theater by nicknames such as “Big Mouth” or “Fish Face.” (Anderson and Richie 24)


The phrase “spring, ah, spring” was commonly quoted by benshi during lovers’ scenes in films. (Anderson 449)


To supplement their income, some benshi put gratuity boxes near their podium where fans, especially female ones, left money, often as marks of affection. (Dym 95)


Onoe Matsunosuke

Onoe Matsunosuke

During 1910-1919, Japanese schoolboys thought that the three greatest men in the world were the emperor of Japan, the chambara film actor Onoe Matsunosuke, and the benshi Somei Saburo. Japanese schoolgirls believed the three greatest men were the emperor, the American film actor Rudolph Valentino, and the benshi Tsuda Shusui. (Dym 91)


Some benshi’s setsumei were so popular that they went on tour with that particular setsumei. Benshi also gathered at exhibitions where they could show off and compare pieces of their setsumei, to the delight of their fans. (Dym 176)


Records were produced of famous benshi’s best setsumei performances. Setsumei for all genres of film were compiled in anthologies (setsumeishu), and there was even setsumei karaoke. All of these mediums allowed avid fans to practice giving setsumei and to imitate their favorite benshi. (Dym 178-180)