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Rewind the Past, Unwind the Memories

Mitsuru Yamamura

Sep. 26, 2016

The production of video cassette recorders came to an end this summer, and some users are unwinding old memories to embrace precious moments before the home appliance is gone for good.

The VCR was created by a Japanese manufacturer 40 years ago. With it, users could enjoy watching recorded family holidays and school activities at home. Watching VHS videos from long ago brings back fond memories.

The product became popular and spread throughout the world. One expert says that VCR was significant because it fundamentally changed the way people enjoyed video.

"VCRs gave rise to the rental-video business. This enabled consumers to rent videos cheaply and watch them whenever they wanted. It changed entertainment in the 80s," says Ichiro Michikoshi, chief executive analyst at BCN.

Japanese manufacturer Funai Electric was the last company to produce VCR recorders, and it stopped production in July.

Funai began producing VCRs in 1983, making a late entry into the market. The device was a big hit and grew into a key business that supported the company's growth.

It sold 15 million units per year during the peak era but the VCR was eventually replaced by DVD devices. Funai sold just 750,000 units last year and the decreased production numbers have made parts costly and difficult to source.

"I am sorry for the end of production. I am grateful for the widespread use of our products. I would have liked to continue producing a little longer," said Shigeki Saji, general manager at Funai Electric.

The end of production is making an impact -- one appliance store moved VCRs to a more visible area in the store, expecting a surge in demand due to the now limited supply.

"I will miss VCR because it`s what I am used to," says one male customer.

In downtown Tokyo, there's a place people can go to make use of their old VHS tapes. The store offers dubbing services so customers can transfer old videos to modern media.

Forty video recorders are in full operation, copying VHS videos onto DVDs, mainly for personal use by individual customers. Some of the older VHS tapes are damaged and attract moths. Employees repair them by hand, one by one.

The shop copies nearly 3,000 tapes every month. The amount has increased by about 20 percent since right before VCR production came to a halt.

Junichi Uchibori brought numerous tapes to the shop from a suburb of Tokyo. He discovered more than 50 tapes left by his father who passed away in May. He and his family want to find out what his father has recorded on the tapes, and asked the shop to copy them.

"I guess there are a lot of things that I haven't seen in the VHS tapes. I want to keep a record of them," Junichi says.

His mother, Fumie, lives alone in her house in Tokyo. Her late husband, Kiyoshi enjoyed taking photos and shooting videos.

"My husband was quiet and stubborn and didn't talk much. But he's dead and I forgot every bad thing about him," she says.

Fumie lives separately from her son and his family. Since her husband died after more than 50 years of marriage, she mostly stays home alone these days.

Junichi visited his mother with a special mission in mind, bringing DVDs copied from the VHS tapes. They watch the footage left by Kiyoshi for the first time.

The first scene they saw was taken when the family visited a nearby shrine 9 years ago. Kiyoshi captured details of their everyday lives.

"I thank my father for recording so many things," Junichi Uchibori says.

"The images will be kept as memories for us," says Fumie.

Junichi saw his mother's smile for the first time in a long while, after she saw Kiyoshi's reflection in one of the videos.

Junichi used the opportunity to propose an idea he had been thinking about for a while.

"Mother, don't you want to live with me and my family?" he asked. "Let's take this opportunity to reunite the Uchibori family."

Junichi offers to renovate the house to make a room for her, and she accepts his offer.

"It was a good opportunity for me and for us to think about why my father made the tapes and left them for us. They are now our treasures," Juinchi says.

The tapes hold a lot of memories. For the Uchibori family, transferring these old memories is helping reunite the family, creating new memories for their future.

NHK news cameraman Mitsuru Yamamura joined anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.

Shibuya: I understand the end of VCR production is having wide repercussions. What other impacts can be expected, Mitsuru?

Mitsuru: Public facilities such as libraries have been providing viewing services. But they can't transfer VHS videos to DVD so easily because of copyright and other issues. They say they don't know what to do after their VCR videos become unusable.

Beppu: So, VCRs are really disappearing from the world.

Mitsuru: Funai Electric, which was the last VCR manufacturer, used to ship the products to Europe and the US, and enjoyed large market shares around the world. It means the end of production is likely to have a global impact. Funai says, even after the end of production, the firm will continue providing repair services for the time being. Meanwhile, for consumers to keep enjoying their valuable VCRs, they will have to take the tapes to a professional copying shop or treat their VCR machines very carefully.