Ichiro Kataoka Comes to the Film Forum This Month

Learn more about the upcoming performances here!

By: Jun. 07, 2023
Ichiro Kataoka Comes to the Film Forum This Month

Ichiro Kataoka, one of the world’s handful of practitioners of the lost art of the Japanese benshi, will perform at Film Forum with three Yasujirō Ozu silents:  I WAS BORN BUT… (1932) and the comedy short "A Straightforward Boy" (1929) on Monday, June 19 at 8:15 and THAT NIGHT’S WIFE (1930) on Tuesday, June 20 at 6:20.  Mr. Kataoka’s narration and the films will be accompanied by composer/pianists Makia Matsumura (Monday) and Steve Sterner (Tuesday). Admission for each of these special events is $20 for Film Forum members and $30 for non-members.

From the earliest days of movies until the mid-1930s, silent films in Japan were accompanied by a benshi — a unique performer acting as a narrator, actor, and storyteller. Highly expressive performers, the benshi drew as many fans as the movies themselves and are often cited as the reason Japan was slow to adopt the talking film — at least five years behind the rest of the world. 

A silent comedy inspired by the hit American Our Gang series, I WAS BORN, BUT… stars child star Tomio Aoki — aka “Tokkan Kozō” — as a boy who goes on a hunger strike with his brother when they find their father Tatsuo Saitō toadying to his boss.  I WAS BORN, BUT… won the Kinema Jumpo Award – Japan’s Oscar – as the best film of its year. 

I WAS BORN, BUT… will be shown with the comedy short "A Straightforward Boy": in Ozu’s take on O. Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief, a hapless kidnapper tries to give obstreperous 6-year old Tomio Aoki back, but.... So big a smash that Aoki was henceforth billed as his character’s name – Tokkan Kozō (literally, “Little Rascal”) – for the rest of the decade.

THAT NIGHT'S WIFE is a mainly single-set exercise in suspense: after robbing because of his daughter’s illness, a commercial artist is caught at home by a cop, but then the wife gets the gun… Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called THAT NIGHT'S WIFE “tense, claustrophobic, and visually striking throughout.”

Ichiro Kataoka graduated from the Nihon University College of Art and began training under Midori Sawato in 2002. He is the most well-known benshi of his generation, a rising star who is also the most internationally active benshi, having given performances in countries such as Croatia, Germany and Australia. Performing a broad repertoire of styles, Mr. Kataoka is known not only for performing with the more traditional benshi accompaniment of a small ensemble or select Japanese instruments, but also for working with experimental or electronic music. He has appeared as a benshi in various films and also works as a voice actor for animation and video games. – Alexander Zahlten, Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University 

Ozu’s other 11 surviving silent films — including PASSING FANCY, DRAGNET GIRL, WOMAN OF TOKYO, and more — will be shown throughout the festival with live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner.

OZU 120, a three-week, complete retrospective of the Japanese director and screenwriter’s extant work, commemorating both the 120th anniversary of his birth and 60th anniversary of his death, will run at Film Forum from Friday, June 9 through Thursday, June 29. 

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