January 14, 2015

Koto Cinema Festival 2015

Koto Ward's annual film festival, showing primarily black and white and silent films, was held from January 10-12 this year. The showing I went to had a benshi (a performer who narrates the intertitles and does the voices of the characters) and a six-piece orchestra! I'd never considered the incredible stamina required to play throughout a feature film, not to mention the sense of timing.

The films I saw: a ten-minute newsreel that showed a dozen Tokyo landmarks, and the hour-long The Freshman, starring Harold Lloyd, one of the silent film greats. I always feel like Tokyo pales in comparison to the sense of history that is palpable when you visit a major city like London or Paris, but seeing how the dozen or so Tokyo landmarks look virtually the same as a hundred years ago, I saw the grandeur of this city.

The Freshman was quite an inconsequential film, though fun and pleasant. I found the Charlie Chaplin-like, repetitive pratfall-oriented gags rather annoying; I prefer the visual inventiveness of Buster Keaton. Much is made of how silent film actors often played young characters far into their thirties. But looking at the 16mm film, I saw how it was possible: the contrast is so high that wrinkles are basically blasted off the screen!

All in all, a very worthy experience.

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