• Japan In Focus

Small Theater in Kawagoe Illuminating the Torch of Film

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kawagoe Scalaza

Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture, located near Tokyo, is also known as “Koedo” (Little Edo) after the old name of the Japanese capital.

The town is home to a street lined with the warehouse-style homes of long-ago merchants, complete with black plaster walls, and the Toki no Kane clock tower, the town’s symbol. After passing them and walking through an alleyway, you will find the Kawagoe Scalaza. It is a small movie theater that has survived the threat of closure several times, keeping films rolling for the small town.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Kawagoe Scalaza theater is frequented by film lovers.

The walls of the red-carpeted lobby are covered with autographs, including those of well-known movie directors and actors.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Autographs of movie directors and actors are seen in the lobby of the theater.

The red cloth-covered seats inside the theater are somewhat nostalgic. Some people may remember seeing them since the theater was featured in Yoji Yamada’s film “Kinema no Kamisama” (It’s a Flickering Life), released in 2021, as a movie house. An important scene was shot at the Kawagoe Scalaza.

The theater opened in 1905 as Ichirikitei, a yose theater mainly for rakugo — a form of comical storytelling — and was later changed into the Kawagoe Shochikukan, a Shochiku Co.-affiliated movie theater. In 1963, it was renamed the Kawagoe Scalaza.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A film reel movie projector, now out of use, is seen at right.

The then family-run theater was temporarily closed in May 2007 due to the aging of the owner and the lack of a successor. However, local supporters and others who wished the theater to keep running established a nonprofit organization and reopened the facility three months later.

The theater was again threatened with closure immediately after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. But responding to calls from customers to keep the theater running, theater employees took over the NPO and management of the facility.

The theater was forced to close for about two months and then show films with a reduced seating capacity during the pandemic. But the NPO managed to push on by raising funds through donations and ¥5,000 supporting member fees. They also sold T-shirts and other original products created for the theater.

“I don’t want to live in a town with no movie theater. It wasn’t an option for us to close the place,” said Chizu Iijima, 50, who became the vice president of the NPO in 2011 after working as a volunteer.

There used to be a small movie theater in my hometown. I envy the towns that hang on to them.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kawagoe Scalaza

Address: 1-1-1 Motomachi, Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

Access: Take the Tobu Bus from Kawagoe Station on JR or the Tobu Railway or from Hon-Kawagoe Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line, and get off at the Ichibangai bus stop. The theater is a five-minute walk from the bus stop.

Note: The theater is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission is ¥1,600 for adults. Various discounts are available.