Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures Kyoko Omori has been awarded an $11,000 grant from the Japan Foundation for a project titled “Reconstructing and Creating a New Japanese Silent Film Experience: Benshi, Music and Film.”
This project focuses on benshi, live performers who narrated and acted alongside silent films in the 1920s. The first part of the project seeks to reconstruct the dynamic live experience at silent movie theaters by adapting from significant historical performances (available mostly in scripts and scores, and some phonograph records) and creating a new version of benshi and music to which a contemporary audience can relate. The project will bring together noted musicians and benshi performers to create a new narration and musical score to accompany a classic Japanese silent film.
The second piece of the program seeks raise awareness about benshi by holding a one-day workshop in which participants create their own benshi narration to a student-made movie that focuses on Utica, N.Y.
Both of these interrelated goals are linked to Kyoko Omori’s digital humanities project, “Comparative Japanese Film Archive,” which is a database of film video clips and benshi audio clips from the early 20th century with annotations and metadata that can be shared with consortia institutions for scholarly and instructional activities.
The first part of the project will be to produce a new benshi script and new music for a Japanese silent film, Orochi (Serpent: 1925). A benshi performer, three musicians from Japan (biwa, shakuhachi, and percussions), two musicians from Canada (composer/piano and cello/bass), one scholar of Western film music, a scholar on western film, and a scholar on benshi will hold a nine-day workshop on the Hamilton campus.
The project’s other goal is to utilize the participants’ expertise (both academic and artistic) for educational and community outreach activities. During the nine-day visit of the artists, the group will hold a one-day workshop open to the Hamilton community, local high schools, and adult refugee population in the Utica area.
Participants will create their original benshi narrations for a student-made movie about the Utica, N.Y., area, a major relocation center with a rich history of immigrants – 12 percent of the population is refugees. The project will work closely with other organizations and individuals in the area for larger collaborative and sustainable outreach program.