Friday, November 14, 2008

The roots of Japanese cinema courtesy of Digital Meme

by Chris MaGee

I wouldn't normally write an endorsement of one specific film or DVD distributor because first of all there are so many companies out there who do a great job getting us Japanese film fans our latest fix, and secondly because I'd assume that all of you out there know their names (take a bow Criterion, AnimEigo, Kino International, HVE, etc.) When I see that a great distributor is operating unknown to most people that I speak to, well it's then that I want to step up and spread the word, especially when the films that are being released are so rare.

Digital Meme's mission is to make available to the general public the very roots of Japanese cinema. Founded in 2000 this Tokyo-based distributor collects, restores and releases the classics of the Japanese silent era on subtitled, region free DVDs packed with extras. Some of the films in their catalogue include Kenji Mizoguchi's "Taki no Shiraito (The Water Magician)" (1933), Buntaro Futagawa's "Orochi (The Serpent)" (1925) (above) and Daisuke Ito's "Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi (Jirokichi the Rat)" (1931). What really makes these releases special, though, is that the poeple at Digital Meme have had hired present day benshi Shunsui Matsuda and Midori Sawato to narrate the films just as they would have done when they were originally shown. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term a benshi was a performer who would stand at the side of the screen and interpret, comment and give voice to the characters in the film. Throughout the silent era they played a key role in the enjoyment of film and it wasn't until the advent of sound in Jpanese films in the 1930's that their reign ended.

Realizing how few films from the silent era have survived to the present day I think that the work that Digital Meme is doing is invaluable. For the curious collector check out their official site here. The discs don't come cheap, but look how much we all shell out on those pricey Criterion DVDs!

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