In Japan's rich tradition of
oral narrative arts, with the advent of motion pictures it was only
natural that a performer emerged to stand beside the silver screen and
give voice to mute images in rhythmic patterns and modulated tones. This
poet of early cinema, the benshi, interpreted films, making sense of the
exotic, reinventing the familiar, repeating and rephrasing, performing
all the roles. As with kabuki, noh, or bunraku, the musical intonation
and dramatic effect of the movie storyteller's art are enjoyed even by
those who do not understand Japanese.
Midori Sawato has performed as a professional benshi for almost thirty
years, appearing at international film festivals as well as frequent
engagements in Japan. She was a student of the late Shunsui Matsuda and
has become Japan's foremost practitioner of the art of katsuben.
Tirelessly sharing her passion for silent cinema, Ms. Sawato has
received numerous awards for her art as well as her accomplishments in
inspiring and educating others.
Included in her repertoire is A Diary of Chuji's Travels, which
was voted the best Japanese film of all time in a 1959 Kinema Junpo
(film critics') poll - even though for years the film was considered
lost. The memories of those who knew the 1927 trilogy and the literature
surrounding its absence had created a legend. Then, in 1991, portions of
a nitrate print were found - amazingly - in Hiroshima, and this
thrilling rediscovery confirmed the achievement of director Daisuke Ito.
If only the stories of all the other missing films might have such a
denouement. Still, over the past few decades a number of significant
works have been recovered, often outside of Japan - in Brussels, London,
1. 1988 - Invited to the Avignon Art Festival in France and performs as
benshi for several films of Bando Tsumasaburo.
2. 1989 - Invited to the United States by New York Japan Society,
Museum of the Moving Image, etc. and performs katsuben in New York and
3. 1990 - Invited by the Japan Cultural Institute in Rome and Pordenone
Festival and performs in Italy.
4. 1990 - Performs at the Antwerp International Film Festival in
5. 1991 - Performs at the Voice Festival in Holland sponsored by the
6. 1992 - Performs in Los Angeles.
7. 1994 - Performs at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival in Germany.
8. February 1995 - Invited to and performs at the Picture Drama Festival
9. September 1995 - Performs on Taki no Shiraito (The Water Magician) by
Mizoguchi Kenji at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.
10. December 1995 - Performs in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
11. October 2001 - Performs Orochi at the Silent Film Festival in Sacile,
Performs in Hayashi Kaizo's Yume miru yoni Nemuritai (I sleep as to
Nijusseiki Shonen Dokuhon (Circus Boy).
Many works, including Siegfried, Pandora's Box and comedy series by
Harold Lloyd, and Laurel & Hardy are shown with Sawato's katsuben on the