Reimagining Benshi Performance
The Orochi Ensemble is an international group comprised of six performers: a benshi live silent film narrator, three Japanese musicians on traditional instruments, and two western musicians. As Principal Investigator on a grant from the Japan Foundation and with matching support from Hamilton College, Professor Kyoko Omori assembled the group in 2014.
The group derives its name from the film Orochi (The Serpent: 1925, directed by Futagawa Buntaro), a silent movie recognized for its innovative camerawork and a darkly ironic story of a samurai anti-hero (portrayed by renowned leading actor, Bando Tsumasaburo) as he confronts a series of misfortunes due to his unyielding sense of honor and justice.
During its weeklong collaboration at Hamilton College, the project achieved three goals:
- First, it created a new benshi narration and musical score for the Orochi movie, through a unique collaboration among internationally renowned artists.
- Second, it offered a public performance of these new artistic productions. See a sample video above.
- Third, the Orochi Ensemble participated in a workshop that involved Hamilton College faculty and students, as well as members of local communities from the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY. During this workshop, the ensemble created live music for a documentary film about refugees in Utica, Crossroads in Context (produced by Omori in collaboration with DHi, Hamilton students, and Doshisha University students from Kyoto, Japan). After the workshop, the Orochi Ensemble and Hamilton benshi students performed at a screening of Crossroads in Context to a packed house at Bradford Auditorium on the Hamilton College campus.
As a result of the collaborative workshop, the Orochi Ensemble was invited by UCLA to perform in April 2017. Omori led the group to premiere the new interpretation of Orochi at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles, CA. This event led to a three-day benshi event, "The Art of the Benshi," at UCLA in 2019.