seven studies on absence

Benshi (弁士) or Katsuben (活弁) were narrators whose lengthy explanations, interpretations and dramatic inflections accompanied most silent film screenings in Japan from it's early days. Essentially a popular star in his own right, the Benshi was often more interesting than the movie he was called upon to ‘explain’ and he could sometimes rival the top film actors in his billing and salary. From the beginning the Benshi reflected the Japanese passion for understanding things in detail and it is significant that one of his roles in the early days was to explain the mechanisms of film projection. Apart from assuming the voices of male and female characters alike and furnishing supplementary information on whatever the audience was watching, the benshi would frequently embroider the plot with fancies and inventions of his own. In a way, they were and are co-directors, having absolute freedom to re-write the original scripts based purely on their interpretation of the images. Departing from the roll of the Benshi as a movie-teller, the project intends to investigate the connection/intersections between film, storytelling and phantoms in its multiple facets: the ghost as media and as a recurrent element in Japanese imaginary and cinematographic production; film itself as a spectral media, which died but acquired an afterlife through digital transfers, still haunting the contemporary through the Benshis, mediums for moving images who links the films of the past with the present moment.

The work consists of seven videos relating to film history, storytelling and phantasmagoria, the main piece produced for the exhibition is an attempt to reenact the film set of ‘ressurection of the corpses’, the first ghost movie ever made in Japan (1896) which is presumed lost. Since script, images, cast and crew are only speculations, the reenactment doesn’t really take place. instead, the actors wait aimlessly for something to happen. for the exhibition, the benshi (silent film narrator) Nanako Yamaguchi wrote a script for the video ‘ressurection of the corpses’, and performed live on the opening night accompanied by a shamisen (japanese guitar) player, as silent films were traditionally exhibited.

installation view goethe institut tokyo 2017

RESURRECTION OF A CORPSE_hd video_10’00_2017

The first ghosts appeared on japanese screens in 1898, in the short scenes Shinin no Sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse) and Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook / 化け地蔵) directed by Shirō Asano. The films are presumed lost. Cast and crew are unknown, so as the original length. No script or stills were ever found. The images you’re about to see are an attempt to reenact the original film set of Resurrection of a Corpse. But things have changed since then, and fiction lingers between life and death. It depends entirely on who tells the story.



THE KISS Thomas Edison 1896