Japan's Independent Film Theaters are Disappearing

One after the other, independent movie theaters are going out of business in Japan. In this post we will look at the situation in Tokyo, which has the largest number of theaters in Japan [ja].

In 2011, two theaters were closed in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. This year, on January 29, Ebisu Garden Cinema [ja] and on February 27, Cinesaison Shibuya [ja] were shut. Ginza Theatres Cinema [ja] will follow suit in May 2013.

In the Asakusa area, which is home to Denkikan, Japan's first dedicated movie theater, built in the early 1900s and a symbolic place for Japan's motion picture, the last three traditional cinema houses Asakusa-Meigaza [ja], Asakusa-Chuei Gekijo [ja] and Asakusa-Shin Gekijo [ja] were forced to shut down on October 21, 2012.

The Chuei Corporation [ja] which ran the three theaters explained “the deterioration of the buildings” had forced them to close.

Quite a few people were shocked by the news:

マジか・・・俺の青春が・・・ >>浅草から映画館が消える…中映劇場など5館が閉館へ 建物の老朽化のため http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20120801-00000016-flix-movi …

darn…my days of youth…>>The theaters will disappear in Asakusa…5 Theaters including Cyuei Theaters are to be closed…due to deterioration of the buildings http://…

二重の意味で残念です。 >> 浅草から映画館が消える…5館が閉館へ
建物の老朽化のため http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20120801-00000016-flix-movi …

The building, built in 1927, is older than Nihonbashi-Takashimaya which is designated as one of the important cultural properties. It’s regretable in that sense as well.
>>The theaters will disappear in Asakusa…5 Theaters including Cyuei Theaters are to be closed…due to deterioration of the buildings http://…

The downtown of Asakusa six street in Tokyo in 1937.Many theaters stood side by side and attracted crowds of people

The downtown of Asakusa sixth street in Tokyo in 1937.
Many theaters stood side by side and attracting crowds of people.
Image originally appeared in “Sekai Gaho” in December 1937 (Public Domain)

On April 24 2012, a Japanese film director Koji Wakamatsu, who passed away on Oct 17 this year, made a proposal on Twitter about the country's grant system on arts and cluture, which has been retweeted 5,927 times as of November 27, 2012:

若松孝二監督よりの提言:文化庁は映画製作に助成金を出す必要はない、製作に金を出してもろくな映画はできやしない。それより苦労しているミニシアターに助成金を出すべきだ。映画をいくら作ったってかける劇場がなければ始まらない! 拡散希望!!

Proposal by Director Wakamatsu : The Agency for Cultural Affairs need not to provide grants for film making, which will only result in poor production. Instead they should support the suffering small theaters. It is meaningless to make films if there’s no theater to show them! Please amplify my message.

Meanwhile, @Dol_Paula tweeted in reply to this question on 2channel, a Japanese textboard, “What makes you avoid going to theaters?”

入場料がまったく変わらないのに完全入れ替え制になったこと。半年後どころか公開三ヶ月でDVD化するから。カーズ2もうDVD化かとCM見てぶったまげたw??α:どうしてみんなは映画館に行かなくなったの?映画館に閉館の波 http://alfalfalfa.com/archives/4904904.html …

Because the ticket is valid for only one show. It used to be okay to stay and watch the same show again with the same fee. Also, now DVDs are available in three months after the film comes off the theater, far shorter than six months. I was surprised to see a TV commercial announcing the release of the DVD version of Cars 2

@guitarkids2010 thinks that it is because films themselves have lost their appeal:

→発祥の地からも… 浅草の3映画館が老朽化で閉館 http://www.asahi.com/culture/update/1021/TKY201210210248.html …

I feel we are suffering a real loss [with theaters disappearing] , but I also feel there’s no great film that is worthy of being showcased in traditional cinema houses. It can be said that we are in a temporal trend  where people are just going to dry, cinema complexes with enlarged versions of TV screens
→ 3 theaters were closed… even in the birthplace of Japanese cinema, due to dilapidated buildings http://www.asahi.com/culture/update/1021/TKY201210210248.html …

Cinepathos Ginza, which will be closed in May, on the right side in the photo, has the entrance in the underground restaurant area

The entrance of Cinepathos Ginza (to be closed in May) is in an underground restaurant area
Image by Flickr user jun560 under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The tide of closing cinemas has changed the look of Tokyo's streets. People who used to get together and spend time there have lost their place.

@IMAO_S worries about elderly fans of traditional cinema houses.

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20120801-00000016-flix-movi …

It's a sad thing….where will those men who always hang out there, go?

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