Actress Tsuji directs sci-fi fantasy silent film

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Actress Nagiko Tsuji

Actress Nagiko Tsuji, 27, made her long film directorial debut with the silent film “I AM JAM. Pizza no Wakusei Kiki Ippatsu!”accompanied by a narrator known as a “katsudo benshi.”

While she was studying at Kyoto University of the Art and Design (now Kyoto University of the Arts), where she aspired to become a comedic actress, she saw a performance by well-known narrator Kumiko Omori. “The film was exciting, like a theme park,” she says. “It’s a participatory film that speaks to us.”

After graduating from university and moving to Tokyo, she created and released her own movies. This caught the eye of producer Takeshi Okamoto, who was planning a silent film, and he approached her about directing.

The film is a slapstick drama about a part-time pizza parlor worker named Jam, played by Tsuji, who is sent to a pizza planet by a big storm and entrusted by the king with a mission that will determine the fate of the galaxy. The film also stars famous comedians Kanpei Hazama and Muga Tsukaji.

©2020 “I AM JAM” Katsuben film narrator production project
A scene from a silent film directed by and starring Nagiko Tsuji, second from right. Comedian Muga Tsukaji, center, plays the role of a king.

Some scenes pay homage to such silent film classics as “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) by Georges Melies. The sets and costumes for the pizza planet were purposely handmade. Although not realistic, Tsuji said: “I dared to create the handmade feel of old movies. I wanted to make it like a picture book.”

Omori, who participates as a narrator, wrote the narration script after watching the footage. The comedy that unfolds in the fantasy world created by Tsuji’s and Omori’s emotional and lively dialogue makes for an interesting synergy. “Silent films are made by humans using trial and error and their own wits,” Tsuji says. “I want the younger generation, like myself, to feel that passion.”

The film is now showing sequentially at Cine Nouveau in Osaka. From Dec. 17 it will be shown at Motomachi Eigakan in Kobe and from Dec. 24 at Cinema Skhole in Nagoya. There will be two types of screenings: one with Omori’s live narration and piano accompaniment, and the other with a pre-recorded version.