The Japanese film business, which closed in mid-April in response to the government’s declaration of a state of emergency, has slowly started to reopen. Japan is the world’s third largest film box office market behind North America and China.
On May 11, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that it planned to lift the state of emergency for the 34 prefectures least affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The other 13, including Tokyo and Osaka, are still on emergency advisories, which include closing theaters, until the end of the month.
Toho Cinemas, Japan’s largest operating chain, has since announced the reopening of ten of its cinemas in the 34 least affected prefectures on May 15. A handful of independent cinemas in these regions have resumed operations.
Another big chain, Aeon Cinemas, also announced a partial reopening on Wednesday. A total of 27 Aeon multiplexes in 16 prefectures will open from May 18.
On April 16, Aeon closed 92 theaters in 35 prefectures and cities, including Tokyo.
Toho and Aeon both take steps to protect spectator safety, such as requiring all staff to wear masks, providing hand sanitizer at theater entrances, using clear plastic screens to limit interactions with staff, and space allocated seats to maintain social distance.
The programming of the reopened cinemas is still in progress, no screening times have yet been listed on the Aeon and Toho sites. All new movies have been postponed, including major Hollywood and local titles, although opening dates for some have been announced over the summer months.