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


Although the talkies silenced the benshi and ended their reign, the poets of the dark did not simply fade into obscurity to remain a long forgotten piece of Japanese history. In July 1959, 18 years after the official disbandment of the benshi institution, the Silent Movie Appreciation Association (Musei eiga kanshokai) began showing monthly screenings of silent films accompanied by live benshi performances. The benshi and film collector Matsuda Shunsui founded the Association and performed, along with his apprentices, in order to preserve such a distinct element of Japanese tradition and such a highly refined and original art form. He is one of the main reasons that the benshi and their art of setsumei have not been completely forgotten by modern-day Japanese (Dym 221-222). The benshi tradition still lingers as contemporary benshi continue to give performances all over Japan and around the world. The most famous contemporary benshi and the only one still earning a living in this profession is a female benshi, Sawato Midori. Not deterred by her gender in a male-dominated industry, both during the silent film era and now, she claims that the most important role of modern benshi is “communicating the spirit of the films made in the past to today’s audience” (Dym 223). The talkies may have made the benshi seem noncinematic. But studying their endurance up until now has made them symbols of national pride (Nornes).

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