This undated photo shows people queuing up at the lobby of the Kino Cinema Yokohama Minatomirai cinema complex in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama, Japan. (PHOTO / THE JAPAN NEWS)
TOKYO — A new type of “mini movie theaters” — cinemas with a small capacity but multiple screens — are popping up in areas in and around Tokyo recently. This trend seems to be driven by the convergence of several factors: cinema operators’ strategies to reduce empty seats, diversifying tastes among moviegoers and the aging of movie enthusiasts.
Taking the concept of the coined term “mini theater complex” — a combination of “mini theater” and “cinema complex” — Uplink Kichijoji, a movie theater in a shopping complex in the Kichijoji district of Musashino, Tokyo, opened in December last year.
All five cinemas at Uplink Kichijoji are mid-sized or small, each with a capacity of between 29 and 98 people. The most unusual aspect of the cinema’s appeal is flexible scheduling enabled by utilizing all five screens
A notable feature is that all five cinemas in the complex are mid-sized or small, each with a capacity of between 29 and 98 people. With an emphasis on showing films that attract movie enthusiasts in particular, the films being screened range across diverse genres.
The most unusual aspect of the cinema’s appeal is flexible scheduling enabled by utilizing all five screens. The operator changes the screening schedules every week to try to avoid having empty seats.
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Although popular titles are screened four to five times a day, the operator sometimes screens 25 different movies a day — five films on each of the five screens. Digitization means it is not necessary to change film reels, which enables more flexible scheduling.
Since the opening of the cinema, documentary film Bill Evans, Time Remembered, featuring the legendary jazz pianist, has attracted the largest audience. Jazz fans across the nation flock to the cinema as screenings of this film are limited even in areas in and around Tokyo, according to the operator.
Likewise, the screening of Netflix original film Roma attracted many movie fans. When the cinema began showing it in March, many moviegoers visited the cinema to watch the much-talked-about film on the big screen.
“Customers’ tastes are diversifying. When mini theaters were in their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, 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 customers,” said Takashi Asai, president of the cinema operator Uplink. “We present our lineups and let customers choose what to watch.”
Another cinema complex, Kino Cinema Yokohama Minatomirai, opened at a multipurpose building in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama on April 12. The first movie theater launched by Kino Cinema Co, an affiliate of Kinoshita Group Co, 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 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.”
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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 movies from overseas, including last year’s Cannes Best Screenplay winner, Happy As Lazzaro. But popular titles from Japan and abroad, such as Bohemian Rhapsody, are also screened. The operator is considering making schedules that would meet the different needs of seniors, families and company employees, among others, varying depending on the day of the week or the time.
In June, Kino Cinema will open a second cinema complex at a commercial facility, Tachikawa Takashimaya Shopping Center, in Tachikawa, Tokyo.
“Movie enthusiasts are getting older. Some such customers say they want to watch reputable arthouse movies, but such films are only screened in Tokyo’s 23 wards. They say they want to watch such films at cinemas close to their homes,” said Nishijima. The operator sees a demand for mini movie theaters outside the heart of Tokyo.
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