In Japan, smaller halls mean more diverse films

TOKYO • In the land where Godzilla rampaged on cinema screens, a new type of cineplex, boasting small halls and showing up to five different movies on each screen a day, is stamping its mark in Tokyo.

Take the example of Uplink Kichijoji, a cineplex in a shopping complex in the Kichijoji district of Musashino, which opened in December last year.

A notable feature is that all its five halls are mid-sized or small, each with a capacity of between 29 and 98 patrons, reported Japan News.

With an emphasis on showing films that attract aficionados in particular, the fare stretches across diverse genres.

Although popular titles are screened four to five times a day, the cinema operator sometimes schedules 25 different movies a day - five films on each of the five screens.

Digitisation means it is not necessary to change film reels, which enables more flexible operations.

Since the opening of the cinema, documentary film Bill Evans, Time Remembered (2015), featuring the legendary American jazz pianist, has attracted the largest audience.

Jazz fans across the nation have flocked to the cineplex as screenings of this film are limited even in areas in and around Tokyo, according to the operator.

Likewise, the screening of Netflix's original film Roma (2018) attracted many fans when shows started in March, lured by the opportunity to watch the much-talked-about film on the big screen.

Alfonso Cuaron won a Best Director Oscar for the movie this year.

Said Mr Takashi Asai, president of Uplink: "Customer tastes are diversifying. Cinema operators used to just present moviegoers with their selections.

"However, now that customers are getting more information through the Internet, we've changed the way we present films to them. We let them choose what to watch."

Another cineplex, Kino Cinema Yokohama Minatomirai, opened in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama, near Tokyo, on April 12.

The first movie theatre launched by Kino Cinema, an affiliate of the Kinoshita Group, it has three screens with a capacity of 55 to 111 each.

"We initially thought about having two screens with a capacity of about 150 each, but that limits the number of titles and varieties we can screen," said Mr Yuichiro Nishijima, president of the cinema operator.

"To secure steady box-office sales, we wanted to increase the number of screens as much as possible."

Adhering to the initial concept of "making a place where quality films from around the world are constantly screened", the majority of titles screened at the cinema are arthouse releases from overseas, including last year's Cannes Best Screenplay winner, Happy As Lazzaro.

But popular titles from Japan and abroad, such as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), are not ignored.

The operator wants to meet the needs of seniors, families and company employees, among others, with screening schedules that are more suitable for them.

This month, Kino Cinema will open a second cineplex in Tachikawa Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Tachikawa.

"Movie enthusiasts are getting older. Some of them want to watch reputable arthouse movies, but such films are only screened in Tokyo's 23 wards," said Mr Nishijima. "They say they want to watch such films at cinemas closer to their homes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'In Japan, smaller halls mean more diverse films'. Print Edition | Subscribe