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

The Audience


In America, typically only the lower classes attended the cinema whereas in Japan, films appealed to both the upper and lower classes. There were two distinct styles of setsumei, Yamanote and Shitamachi, so called after their relative geographical locations of prominence. Both were areas in Tokyo, but Yamanote was home to the patricians and Shitamachi the working class.

The Yamanote style focused on realism. The setsumei was objective and stuck close to the text of the film. Yamanote benshi, such as Tokugawa Musei, wanted the audience to appreciate the film over the benshi and helped the audience to do so by knowing when to stop one’s setsumei and let silence work as an art form. The Yamanote style typically accompanied foreign films and appealed to the upper-class citizens.

Conversely, the Shitamachi style centered on poeticism. The setsumei was melodramatic and superfluous. It was often unrelated to the film but was very beautiful. Benshi like Ikoma Raiyu used the Shitamachi style most commonly for Japanese films. The lower class and those who lived in the countryside favored this style in particular (Dym 189-191).

Women and children most often attended local shinpa-melodramas, or “women’s weepies.” This division between the lower classes and the educated who patronized foreign films paralleled the rift between the filmmakers who admired the advanced, Western film techniques and those who wanted to stick within local, traditional boundaries (Standish 105).