Restarting Japan’s Film Industry, One Cinema at a Time

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After being closed for more than a month, cinemas in Tokyo are expected to start reopening.

On May 22, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike presented a roadmap to ease social distancing measures and business closures in the capital in three stages. Cinemas will start to reopen in the second stage, which could start at the end of May.

Theaters in other parts of the country with fewer cases of coronavirus infections have already started showing films, mainly older titles such as the 2016 film “Shin Godzilla,” which will show viewers what they have. missed giving them a great screen experience that they can’t get at home.

The new titles are clearly missing from the marquees. As long as theaters in their largest market, Tokyo, remain closed, distributors would rather withhold films than risk anemic box office returns.

And thanks to the pandemic, this year’s returns have been really bad. According to figures compiled by veteran industry reporter Hiroo Otaka, from January to April, box office receipts in Japan amounted to 32.02 billion yen, down 53% from the same. period last year. The total for the month of April alone was 690 million yen, or 4% of the figure for the previous year. “Considering the complete shutdown of cinemas across the country, May could be worse,” Otaka told the Japan Times.

The COVID-19 crisis has also pushed the release of spring and summer titles from Toho, Disney and other major distributors back to the fall or beyond. In the meantime, cinemas have made efforts to adjust their schedules while trying to create a safe environment for reopening by enforcing social distancing.

“As they only sell tickets for certain seats in order to leave enough space (between customers), they are limited in the amount they can earn,” says Otaka.

Additionally, now that many moviegoers have gotten used to watching movies at home on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, “a lot of people in the movie business are feeling a sense of crisis,” says Otaka. “They are wondering if they can attract audiences to theaters.” But many of the films moviegoers want to see the most – from the latest installment in the popular Pokemon animated series to the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, “No Time To Die” – won’t be shown in theaters during peak season. summer. ticket office season.

Distributors must also fill their pipelines with new releases, but film production in Japan has come to a screeching halt. On May 14, the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren), an industry body whose members are the four largest studios in Japan, announced guidelines for restarting production. Its aim was to reduce what the government describes as the “three Cs”: closed spaces with insufficient ventilation, overcrowded places and places of close contact.

“Everything has stopped in the world of cinema, from upstream (production) to downstream (cinemas),” said Eiren’s secretary general, Naotaka Kacho, quoted by Tokyo Shimbun. “We were completely handcuffed, but we finally started to move. There are still a lot of problems, but we want to take the first step. “

Despite all the changes a new standard is expected to bring, Otaka believes fans will still want a true cinematic experience.

“You can’t really replace what a movie theater gives you: a space where you can laugh, cry and be moved, with a lot of other people,” he says. “The allure and charm of movie theaters is deeply rooted in human nature. It will never go out of style.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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