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Conversations in Silence 1: A Page of Madness, a Benshi, and Music

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I forgot to announce this before it happened, but last week on April 5th, I got to participate in a rather unique event centered on Kinugasa Teinosuke’s A Page of Madness (Kurutta ichipeiji), about which I wrote a book. At the event space Haretara Sora ni Mame Maite (meaning “When it clears sow beans in the sky”—or Haremame for short), there was a screening of the film with Kataoka Ichiro doing benshi narration and the jazz musician Kikuchi Naruyoshi deejaying music for the film. Since Haremame is a small but delightful space (with tatami mats!), we used the Blu-ray of the film I discussed earlier, with permission from Flicker Alley. I introduced the film and MC’d the after-screening discussion. It was the first in a series of three silent film events called “Conversations in Silence” that the three of us will be doing at Haremame.

As I mentioned in the book, there is no historical record (that I could find), of the music that was performed with the film upon its first release, or of the style of benshi narration. What I could find is that it showed at the Tokyokan narrated by Ishii Masami and Tamai Kyokuyo with music selected by Oshima Kyotaro, or at Kyoto’s Shochikuza with Ishida Kyokka as the benshi and music arranged by Sasai Sei, to provide two instances. The great benshi Tokugawa Musei did perform the narration at Shinjuku’s Musashinokan, and there is a chance he did it in a style similar to his explanation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (check out Kyoko Omori’s collection of clips of Caligari synched with a recording of the narration that Musei provided in 1968), since Page of Madness was influenced by that work. But Naoki Sanjugo (after whom the Naoki Prize is named), when noting Musashinokan audience members praising Musei for explaining that incomprehensible film, complained that it was contradictory for a film that rejected intertitles, if not also conventional meaning making, to have a benshi. So there was the question of what role sound—both words and music—was supposed to play with this supposedly avant-garde film.

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