Photograph of a Benshi performance
It’s strange to think of film as originally being something of a carnival attraction. Like the elephants and lions on view in neighboring displays, Edison’s Kinetoscope and Lumière’s Cinématographe were initially presented to the public as something exotic, bizarre, even magical. Another collective misconception that we are inclined to entertain is that the invention of film comprised a single moment in history. In reality, it took considerable time for the technology to dissipate and for its influence to take hold around the world. Nowhere is this truer than in Japan.