Natalie and I are, in a sense, movie theater snobs. Since coming to Japan we have only attended the movie theater on base a handful of times. Three times to be exact. While the theater on base is not the worst movie theater that Natalie and I have been to, it does not rate anywhere near the top of our list of favorite theaters either. My main complaint is that the “perfect seats” which are about three-quarters of the way to the rear of the theater and centered, are non-existent due to poor layout. Where our perfect seats would normally be there is the theater entrance and even the balcony (which would normally hold the secondary “best seat” area) is blocked by projection equipment. This forces us to pick seats that are too close and cause you have to look up at the screen or sit on a side row where you are not able to look directly at the film. So, all in all we only go to the base theater for titles that we do not wish to wait to see until they come out on Blu-ray. Now that I have complained about my local movie theater, let me tell you why Japanese movie theaters are amazing.
Natalie and I went up Hiroshima about a month ago to experience a Japanese theater. We decided to see Star Trek Into Darkness, which was a great movie if you have yet to see it. We got to the theater about two hours early, because we were going to take care of some shopping before the film started and because we were unsure how quickly the film would sell out of tickets. This is when we found our first pleasant surprise. Japanese movie theaters use an assigned seat system. In the United States if I wanted to ensure that I got the perfect seats, it involved a process of going to the theater hours in advance and standing in line so I could be the first one into the theater to snag our seats. With assigned seats Japanese theaters remove this time consuming nightmare. Now the process of getting the ideal seat goes more like this: Step one – Show up early and buy tickets. Step two – Leave and enjoy your afternoon (shopping, dining, etc.). Step three – Return and enjoy your movie in your perfect seats. I loved it!
This is not the only difference in how the Japanese do movie going. The concession stand still has many of the crowd favorites like popcorn, soda, and hot dogs, but no candy. If you are like me and your movie view fix is sour patch kids, you are going to have to smuggle them in.
|No jumbo boxes, although a really big soda|
The theater itself had about 150 seats (including 10 luxury seats that come with side tables and more space) at a steep incline. The head of the person in front of me did not even come up to my knees. (No need to worry about people with large hats blocking your viewing.) I am sure Natalie has mentioned the oddity before but the Japanese handle temperature differently than Americans. While walking the streets of Japan in the summer you can find people in long sleeves and pants where as I will be standing there with sweat pouring down my face in shorts and tee-shirt. The movie theater did not prove to be much different. It was just shy of being cool; I was constantly just on the verge of being uncomfortable. But if you did somehow find yourself becoming cold, do not worry, the movie theater also provides blankets.
Now the Japanese movie goers may supply the most noticeable difference between the American and Japanese movie going experience. They are silent. They do not laugh. They do not cheer. In Star Trek Into Darkness there is a scene where the Enterprise dramatically rises out of the clouds. In the US there would have been some collective audible exclamation at this happening. Not so in Japan, here they seem almost stoic, but this is not because they are not enjoying the film, quite the opposite in fact. Plus Japanese society in general is much more polite than that of the United States; the Japanese do not wish to disturb their fellow movie goers. Also in the states as soon as the credits begin to roll people start getting up and leaving the theater (often leaving all of their trash behind) unless they suspect an extra clip at the end or would like to know the name of actor or actress. The Japanese audience is quite different. They sat in their seats watched the credits, only when the theater lights came on did they stand collect their trash and belongings and leave.
Lastly, upon exiting the theater you are treated to a small gift shop. Let’s say that you just saw Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film and you loved it, on your way out you can pick up the movie poster, key chains, or stationary showing your favorite character or moment from the film.
Even accounting for the slightly uncomfortable temperature of the theater, this is easily in our top five movie going experiences.