Aug. 29, 2017
Independent movies theaters are closing down in many parts of Japan. They can't compete with large multi-screen cinemas. One operator near Tokyo decided it was time to change that script, with the help of some senior citizens.
The curtain is about to go up.
It's a weekday, but more than half the seats at a cinema in downtown Atsugi are taken.
It's an independent theater, and it's making a comeback after closing down for 6 years.
Daizo Aoyama directed this revival. He's been chief operator since the theater re-opened 3 years ago. Aoyama says he's answering a call he first heard at business school.
"My research theme was how to revive mini-theaters. I wanted to run a theater myself. That desire came welling up," he says.
Aoyama's immediate challenge was competing with the nearby cinema complex. The mushrooming of multi-screens is driving small, independent operators out of business across Japan.
His first strategy was to make it a "second run" theater -- one that screens films a little older than new releases. That allowed him to reduce ticket prices. Members pay half the cost of a regular cinema.
"Very good films come here only 2 to 3 months after being shown at major complexes. I'm really pleased," says a customer.
Another strategy was to attract more seniors. Aoyama started by enlisting the help of community leaders. Elderly people in the area are keeping fit, but they don't get out much. Aoyama suggested an alternative activity -- a day at the movies.
A shuttle bus was prepared. After watching a film, the elderly film buffs gathered at a restaurant to share opinions. The event was a success, and many who took part have become regular customers.
"It's definitely better than being stuck at home. I feel younger." "I go to the theater 2 or 3 times a month. It's great," they say.
"This movie theater is not just for entertainment. It's a community forum where elderly people can come together. Theaters like this can spread across the nation, and I want to be at the center of that movement. That's my dream now," says Aoyama.
It's a dream with a happy business ending too. Aoyama says the theater is on target this year to post its first annual profit.