Make More Films that People Want to Watch in Theaters

Japanese movie theaters are beginning to recover from the decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing to produce films that audiences want to watch on the big screen will ensure a resurgence in the popularity of movies.

Box-office revenue in the nation was ¥213.1 billion in 2022, and attendance at movie theaters reached 152 million. Both figures were up more than 30% from the previous year, approaching the levels seen before the pandemic.

Movie theaters fell on tough times when they were forced to temporarily close their doors or limit attendance as infection control measures, but audiences are apparently returning as restrictions have been eased.

Movie theaters offer the advantage of a large screen and an excellent acoustic environment, as well as a sense of unity among the audience members, just like at a concert. An increasing number of new releases are available only through online video streaming services, but the appeal of movie theaters appears to have been reevaluated.

Among the four blockbuster hits that exceeded ¥10 billion in box-office revenue, driving the overall increase, three were animated films, including “One Piece Film Red.”

The Japanese live-action film with the highest box-office revenue for the year was “Kingdom II: Far and Away” at ¥5.1 billion, far behind animated films.

Among Japanese films, in recent years, animated films based on popular manga have been notable blockbuster hits. They have become a driving force in the nation’s cultural industry, with expectations for various revenue sources, such as sales of related goods and exports. However, live-action films need to be improved to attract new audiences that have little interest in anime.

The overall appeal of live-action movies must be boosted through such elements as the subtle emotional expressions and actions of the actors, as well as beautiful images that only live-action films can offer.

Movie theaters in Japan are increasingly polarized into two types: cinema complexes operated by major movie and other companies, and smaller facilities such as independent theaters. Cinema complexes, which can screen popular films dozens of times a day on their many screens, tend to exclude unknown films.

In contrast, small, independent theaters, which screen unique films, have served as a venue for nurturing the talent of young directors.

Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose “Drive My Car” won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards last year, has also gained recognition through opportunities to present his works at small, independent theaters.

Measures to increase the number of visitors to small, independent theaters are limited to such occasions as on-stage greetings by directors and actors, and post-screening talk events. Some theaters are closing due to tough financial situations.

If young filmmakers lose a place to present their work, it could lead to the decline of the Japanese film industry. Major film companies must also think about how to respond to this situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2023)