“Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.” ~ Roman Polanski
“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.” ~ Jean-Luc Godard
“The secret to film is that it’s an illusion.” ~ George Lucas
The refreshing experience of going to the movies in Japan is certainly no illusion. Rather, it’s a refreshing reality!
Jody and I were in Kyoto, and found ourselves rather exhausted from being continually on the go, playing the role of foreign tourist to a tee. Our feet were aching, our legs tired, and minds overwhelmed from the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this enchanted Far Eastern foreign land. We had been transiting a major subway/rail station, and noticed that there was a movie theater on the 4th floor in the “small” mall attached to the train terminal: the TOHO Cinema in Nijo, Kyoto. I thought out loud, “Why not take in a movie?”
The cinema of Japan (日本映画 Nihon eiga, also known domestically as 邦画 hōga, “domestic cinema”) is one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world. In fact, as of 2010, it is the fourth largest as measured by the number of feature films produced, and earns domestically on the order of 55% of the box office total in the United States, a respectable amount indeed. Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film four times, more than any other country in Asia. Too bad Godzilla wasn’t one of them. Thanks, snobbish saurophobic Academy members….
It’s rather funny that the second movie theater date that Jody and I have enjoyed over the last 4 years happened in Japan. Yes, we don’t go to the movies…much. Having a very large screen TV at home, along with our precious “char-and-a-half” (see the blog Easy Chair), combined with on-demand movies , our constantly updated Netflix Blu-ray movie queue, and reasonably priced extensive snack collection, there isn’t much reason to spend the money at the theater, only to sit with and next to strangers who seem more fixated on their cell phones than the movie…or on good manners.
Gravity was out back home, and I knew that it was one of those films that needed to be seen on the big screen with a massive sound system. We headed over to see what was playing, and sure enough, there it was, and showing in English at a time which allowed for us to maneuver successfully through this foreign experience.
I had been to the movies in Okinawa during my previous tours on Okinawa, and knew how pleasant the experience and venues could be. For starters, minors under 16 are not allowed in the theater past 6 pm, and there is no one under 18 after 10 pm, regardless of movie ratings or fake identifications in hand. In other words, it’s really a place to date with fellow adults, which significantly alters the theater cliental in Japan over what we normally encounter at home. While the ticket prices are a bit higher than the states, the food is much better and prices are actually reasonable¸ a quite refreshing relief from the fast-food capitalistic highway-robbery we often suffer through back in the states. As a passing note, there appeared to be an unnatural obsession with multi-colored churros, of which we chose not to sample. The tickets for our movie cost about $21 (each), plus an additional $1 for 3D glasses rental.
However, prices are just the start. Like most transactions in Japan, buying tickets is totally automated and cash-free, which you might be thinking, is just like many theaters back home. However, there is a serious difference here in Japan: the automated system that dispenses tickets also allows you to reserve seats. Yes, reserved seating, all automated and quick! Oh, and the ticketing process can be all in English…after one finds the “English” button on the kanji-crowded touchscreen.
The theater was beautiful, incorporating a Kyoto-inspired rock garden under the floor, viewable through translucent floor tiling. Like most movie-going experiences, “coming soon” movie posters are seriously one of the more entertaining aspects of such an adventure! The seating is stadium style, and booster seats are so plentifully stacked by the theater’s entrance, it leads one to believe that not just children here use them. However, perhaps one of the coolest aspects of this movie-going experience was also one of the simplest: food trays ergonomically shaped and designed to fit the drink holder along the seat armrest. The tray, a cantilever design for you mathletes out there, incorporated its own dual drink holders, and served in essence as our table during the movie. Why we don’t have such small yet important conveniences back home is seriously a mystery to me….
There were, unfortunately, commercials before the trailers (thanks again, American capitalism), which alternated between English when Western English-speaking directors explained their upcoming films in oddly dry and flat script and film, and also in Japanese. The audience was really respectful and almost too quiet. The Japanese, almost as a rule, actually adhere to the warnings about not using cellphones, talking, and even to the theater’s on-screen reminder not to kick the seats in front of you! If they can put down their cell phones here, certainly you can too in America. No one is that important.
The movie, besides being fantastically visually stunning and overwhelmingly action-packed, was in English with Japanese subtitles. After a very short period of viewing, the subtitles seem to disappear, and really not once detracted from the viewing. It’s interesting to note that a Japanese version of the movie was offered at other times; no doubt voice-overs would detract from the any film’s very essence. The sound system was energetic, and combined with the wide-screen and 3D effects, seeing Gravity in Kyoto certainly accelerated our enjoyment in this fanciful foray of our Far East Fling.