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Experience The Art of the Benshi: An Invitation to Opening Night at The United Theater on Broadway

The angels of Japanese cinema will be on call as The Art of the Benshi world tour descends on our beautiful downtown Los Angeles historic theater district. A not to be missed global theatrical event at The United Theater on Broadway, Friday night at 7:30PM April 19, 2024. Bringing life, sound, fury and the star power of early Japanese cinema to LA audiences.


Get your tickets now for this enchanted first of its kind, exploration of cinema and the mystical art of benshi with Silent Film Narrators of Japan World Tour. Newly restored, and rarely-seen silent films from Japan and the United States with live benshi performances and musical accompaniment with traditional Japanese instruments taking us all the way back to the early 1900's as theater transitioned to the medium of film.


A RETURN TO THE ORIGINS OF THEATRICAL EXHIBITION


This collaborative style of performance, in which each benshi takes on the roles of different characters in the film, has been seen only once before in the U.S. at the 2019 Art of the Benshi program at UCLA that paved the way for this year’s world tour. All performances will be in Japanese with live music and English subtitles.


The Art of the Benshi program is co-presented by UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities. With narration artistry and live accompaniment, you are given the privilege of time travel, to the hopes, dreams and majesty of cinema to connect us, move us and show us projections of our own deeply held creative wizardry.


Jiraiya the Hero, Gōketsu jiraiya, Japan, 1921 starring the first star of the Japanese screen, Matsunosuke Onoe
Jiraiya the Hero, Gōketsu jiraiya, Japan, 1921 starring the first star of the Japanese screen, Matsunosuke Onoe

“The Art of the Benshi 2024 tour offers a unique theatrical experience that combines cinema and live performance rarely seen on this scale, even in Japan. We are honored to be helping introduce this vibrant, enthralling form to a broader audience, and we know people will walk out of these shows wanting to see more.” -Michael Emmerich, Tadashi Yanai Professor of Japanese Literature at UCLA and Director of the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities


The mesmerizing artistry of three of Japan’s most renowned contemporary benshi - silent film narrators - will transport viewers back to the golden age of film. Pairing rare prints and new restorations of Japanese and American classics, Ichirō Kataoka, Kumiko Ōmori and Hideyuki Yamashiro, perform their unique art live on stage in Japanese with English subtitles, accompanied by a musical ensemble with traditional Japanese instrumentation.


LA's opening night program for The Art of the Benshi:


  • Sanji Goto: The Story of a Japanese Enoch Arden, Japan 1918. (35 min)

  • Jiraiya the Hero, Gōketsu jiraiya, Japan, 1921 (21 min) starring the first star of the Japanese screen, Matsunosuke Onoe as, a shape-shifting ninja who battles his enemies with an arsenal of magic, which includes transforming himself into a giant toad. Based on a famous folktale, Jiraiya, Jiraiya the Hero was one Japan’s earliest “trick films” and survives today as a fragment featuring a series of loosely connected fight scenes. Directed by Shōzo Makino with Suminojo Ichikawa, Kijaku Ōtani.

  • Our Pet, U.S., 1924. (11 min) A “Home Alone”-style comedy featuring child star Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary). A slapstick comedy starring Iwajiro Nakajima, “the Japanese Charlie Chaplin.”

  • A Page of Madness, Kurutta ichipeiji, Japan, 1926. (70 min) Believing his wanton cruelty drove his wife into an asylum, a man gradually loses his own grip on reality. Replete with fantastical images, super impositions and rapid montage.


Featuring Japan’s most renowned contemporary benshi (silent film narrators), Ichirō Kataoka, Kumiko Ōmori and Hideyuki Yamashiro, performing their unique art live on stage. Every screening will also be accompanied by a musical ensemble with traditional Japanese instruments.


Get tickets for this DTLA opening night event.


$25 premium seats.

$15 upper balcony, student and accessible seating.



“A privileged glimpse into one of the least known and most dynamic aspects of world cinema.” -Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times


The program continues through the weekend at the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater. please visit https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events




About The Yanai Initiative

The Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities is a collaborative project of UCLA and Waseda University in Tokyo, established in 2014 to realize a sustainable, equitable, globally interconnected future for the Japanese humanities. Its activities include the advancement of scholarship on Japanese, literature and the arts; support for literary translation; public programs on performance, film, design, music, art, food, and architecture; and the creation of digital educational content and smartphone apps. For more information, please visit yanai-initiative.ucla.edu.


About the UCLA Film & Television Archive

A division of UCLA Library, the Archive is internationally renowned for rescuing, preserving and showcasing moving image media and is dedicated to ensuring that the visual achievements of our time are available for information, education and enjoyment. Many of the Archive’s projects are screened at prestigious film events around the globe. For more information, please visit cinema.ucla.edu.


About JAMN

The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. please visit https://www.janm.org/


About The United Theater on Broadway

The United Theater on Broadway exists to celebrate the future of culture in a uniquely historic space. With a new take on its 1920s renegade spirit, it returns as a standalone venue to bring peerless live experience to the people of Los Angeles. Part of DTLA's Historic Theater District and the Broadway West Theater Alliance located at 929 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015. please visit https://www.theunitedtheater.com/


About Broadway West

Broadway West is among an interconnected, collaborative group of artists, architects and visionaries that are working to revive these once vibrant halls, bringing New-York caliber theater to the West Coast and uplifting our local artist communities with spaces, funding, influences to tell their stories and revitalize Downtown Los Angeles’ historic theater district to full LA glory. Listen to founders Marcus Lovingood and Jim Sarratori on the Broadway West podcast on Spotify.

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