JAPANESE film archivist and curator Hidenori Okada said that, despite the inability to bring back the old silent films, modern films can still exude some characteristics of the past and incorporate into their own.
Speaking during the Film Experts Talk of the 10th International Silent Film Festival at Edsa Shangri-La Plaza, Okada said silent films provide inspirations to filmmakers and has laid the groundworks for most of the techniques being used in movies today.
“Clearly, the real silent-movie era has ended, but there are directors who are still creating the new kind of silent movies. What you can take from silent film is that every film that is being created, the foundation is silent film. All films today are based on silent films and is an extension of that silent film,” Okada said.
For the festival’s 10th year, the Japan Foundation Manila showcased the 1934 film Muteki or The Foghorn, which is a story of a love triangle between a British, a young Japanese hoodlum and a bewitching Japanese woman.
According to Okada, the film’s concept is uncommon for its period, focusing on interracial love.
The Foghorn’s director, Minoru Murata, is considered a legend in contemporary Japan cinema for incorporating his knowledge of Western-style acting and heavy masculine scenes into his films, Okada said.
The film is joined by the world music band Makiling Ensemble, whose lively percussions and oriental rhythms match both action scenes and passionate love affair ones.
Formed in 1997 by five high-school friends, Makiling Ensemble music has evolved into a more dynamic genre abandoning the formality of classical music and utilizing vigorous Afro-Latin rhythms fused with Keltic-inspired melodies, Indian-styled vocals, the playfulness of the T’boli hegalong, guitar chords and heightened improvisation.
During the director’s talk, Okada also mentioned a distinct feature in Japan silent films which is the benshi, or the film narrator, which have become an industry staple during the start of cinema there.
“As the silent film progressed and improved, the benshis’ talents have become very good that the audience ended up wanting to watch or listen to the benshi. There are those that are calm and collected, and there are those that are good at comedy and gags, so there were these different genres of benshis and their expertise which the audience look forward to,” Okada said.
Born in 1968 in Aichi Prefecture, Okada is heavily involved in the preservation and archiving of film and nonfilm material, film programming, exhibitions and film education as a curator of the National Film Center, the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo.
Meanwhile,award-winning Filipino filmmaker and writer Nick Deocampo said despite a healthy patronage of silent films in Asian countries nowadays, the genre cannot revert back to an authentic state.
He said no amount of digital restoration and soundbites expertise will be able to bring back the effect of the silent films in history and that moviegoers can only be enveloped in a feeling of “nostalgia,” but never experience its full impact.
Deocampo said the authenticity cannot be brought back in the contemporary silent films since films of the past made use of resources and concepts available at the time that may not be as relevant today.
“I do not think you can bring back the system of the silent movies because it was really a whole lifestyle. The whole era of the silent films, there were really structures in the society which cannot be made possible in our time,” Deocampo said.
Noting the Indonesian shadow play Wayang Kulit as part of the silent films history, Deocampo said the “communal experience” is what makes bringing back past shadow plays and silent films impossible.
“One thing I admire with the Wayang Kulit is that it is a whole village involved that, even if you try to create a mechanical reproduction of it, it will not capture the whole social relations that goes on with the original authentic Wayang Kulit experience. The same can be said about the silent movies. There can be occasions when there are discrepancies between what you see and what you hear,” he said.
Appreciation for silent films are steadily rising, the filmmaker said, calling the audience turnout “phenomenal” and urging for more festivals that bring together the old and the new.
“There is an audience and 80 percent of these are the millennials. So I think it is a big myth and it is quite wrong to say that they cannot appreciate old movies like this. I think they do, because it is done in a very novel way,” Deocampo said. “At least we are happy that there is an event like this that can open the minds of the people again to look back at the past and appreciate exactly a kind of continuum between the past and the present.”