Benshi Performance

In February, Charles Exley brought internationally renowned silent film narrator Kataoka Ichirō, a practicing benshi, to Pitt’s Oakland campus. Mr. Kataoka visited a Pitt class on popular music, held a workshop for students, and gave a memorable performance to a packed auditorium narrating the silent film Jirokichi the Rat (directed by Itō Daisuke, 1931). The film was accompanied by talented local pianist Tom Roberts.


This was Mr. Kataoka’s first visit to Pittsburgh. Kataoka has a strong reputation as a practicing benshi, and his performances have delighted audiences across Japan and around the world. A graduate in Theater Arts from Nihon University in 2001, Kataoka discovered kami shibai and other traditional forms of verbal art. He has studied under legendary performer Sawato Midori since 2002. He has performed a range of film genres, including period and contemporary Japanese film, Western films, anime, and news, and he has appeared to acclaim at the Bantsuma Film Festival and Train Film Festival, travelling abroad from the U.S. to the U.K., from Croatia to Germany.


Tom Roberts is one of the leading exponents of early jazz piano in the world today (as stated by Ricardo Sciavales in The Heart and Soul of Stride, Blues, and Swing Piano). He has performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Statler Brothers Show on TNN , and A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Tom arranged and performed the music for the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s film The Aviator as well as several titles for the film DeLovely. He has also arranged music for the syndicated PRI show Riverwalk Jazz, Live from the Landing with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, and a number of pieces for Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a concert of the music of Louis Armstrong in October 2006.

Photo from the workshop “How to Perform like a benshi” held this February with Mr. Kataoka Ichirō. Participants tested their performance skills and received feedback from this master of Japanese verbal performance.

These events were sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Japan Iron and Steel Federation, the Mitsubishi Endowments, and the Asian Studies Center.