Cineplexes around Japan win big by thinking small
A NEW type of “mini-cinema” with multiple screens is popping up in and around Tokyo, apparently driven by the convergence of strategies to fill seats, diversifying tastes and an ageing audience.
Taking the concept of “mini theatre complex”, Uplink Kichijoji opened in December in a shopping complex in the Kichijoji district of Tokyo.
All five cinemas in the complex are mid-sized or small, with a capacity of between 29 and 98 people.
With an emphasis on films that attract the biggest fans of movies, the selection being screened ranges across diverse genres.
The most unusual aspect of the cinema’s appeal is flexible scheduling enabled by utilising all five screens. The operator changes the schedule every week to try to avoid leaving seats empty.
Film buffs crowd the lobby of the Kino Cinema Yokohama Minatomirai cinema complex. /Japan NewsYomiuri
Although popular titles are screened four or five times a day, the operator sometimes screens 25 different movies a day – five films on each of the five screens.
Digitisation means it’s not necessary to change reels, which enables more flexible scheduling.
Since the cinema’s opening, the documentary “Bill Evans: Time Remembered”, about the revered jazz pianist, has attracted the largest audience.
Likewise, screenings of the Netflix movie “Roma” attracted lots of people.
“Customers’ tastes are diversifying. When mini-theatres were in their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, cinema operators used to just present their own selections. However, now that customers get more information through the internet, we’ve changed the way we present films,” says Uplink president Takashi Asai.
“We present our line-ups and let customers choose what to watch.”
Another cinema complex, Kino Cinema Yokohama Minatomirai, opened in a multipurpose building in the Minatomirai district of Yokohama on April 12. The first theatre launched by Kino Cinema 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 the variety we can screen,” says president Yuichiro Nishijima.
“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 seen are art-house movies from overseas, including last year’s Cannes 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 respective needs of seniors, families and company employees, varying depending on the day of the week or the time.
Kino Cinema will this month open a second cinema complex at the Tachikawa Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Tokyo.
“Movie enthusiasts are getting older. Some such customers say they want to watch reputable art-house 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,” says Nishijima.