Fukuoka: Movie theater screens first film after burning down

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kokura Showakan owner Tomomi Higuchi stands in front of the theater’s now vacant lot on Nov. 9.

KITAKYUSHU — A long-established Kitakyushu movie theater held a special screening in a hotel in the city on Nov. 27 as it works to rise from the ashes. The Kokura Showakan theater’s buildings were destroyed by the second of two fires that struck the city’s Tanga Market this year.

“I still sometimes find myself discouraged by the loss, thinking of how the fire burned up this and that,” said Tomomi Higuchi, Showakan’s owner. “Even so, I want to live up to the wishes of those who say that Showakan should be a symbol of the rebuilding.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Showakan is seen before the fire in January 2021.

Showakan was established in 1939. Its No. 1 and No. 2 buildings were located in the Shin-Tanga area adjacent to the market, and in the 1950s and 1960s, during the period of Japan’s rapid economic growth, the theater did brisk business by showing reels featuring the silver screen’s biggest stars.

Even after large movie screening facilities became mainstream, Showakan screened about 150 movies a year, including classics, remaining popular with locals and people from the industry.

In April and August this year, fires struck the neighborhood and damaged the market. The first fire only cracked the windows of the theater, but the second one destroyed everything, including screening equipment, valuable films shown via projectors and a letter from late actor Ken Takakura, whom Higuchi had met and interacted with.

Higuchi, 62, recalled that she had stood riveted to the spot on seeing the site after the fire.

When she was unable to decide whether to rebuild the theater, her regular customers kindly encouraged her to do so. A petition was started asking the city for help in rebuilding Showakan, and signatures were collected from all over the country.

“I started to feel that it might be time to move forward,” Higuchi said.

At the Nov. 27 screening, a silent film was shown accompanied by narration from a speaker and music from a guitar and flute duo. The unique screening had been planned before the fire. At one point, Higuchi thought of cancelling the event, but in the end managed to press ahead despite struggling to find a venue and secure equipment.

On the day of the event, Higuchi greeted the audience with a smile.

“I think we can take this as a first step and move forward to rebuild.”

“It was a relief to see Higuchi welcoming us so cheerfully. I would like to help with the reconstruction in any way I can,” said a 61-year-old woman.

Higuchi plans to hold such special screenings once every month or so.

Tanga Market

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Located about 600 meters south of JR Kokura Station, the market has a 100-year history dating to the early 20th century and is known as “the kitchen of Kitakyushu,” with about 100 stores selling fresh food and other products. The old wooden buildings, constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, were densely packed together, and the danger of a fire had long been raised.