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Curtain falling on cinema in Kabukicho

The Shinjuku Tokyu Milano theater is home to the remaining four screens in Tokyo's Kabukicho entertainment district
The Shinjuku Tokyu Milano theater is home to the remaining four screens in Kabukicho

TOKYO (TR) – Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment area, once one of Japan’s most vibrant cinema districts, is experiencing a rapid shuttering of its theaters as their aging buildings lose audiences to modern theaters nearby.

The first domino fell in 2008, when Toho acquired the landmark Koma Stadium, a 2,000-seat performing arts theater that opened in 1956. Toho shut the Koma property, which also had two screens in its basement, and its neighboring building, home to the exhibitor’s 1,044-seat Shinjuku Plaza Gekijo, in preparation for redeveloping the entire site.

Last November, four screens operated by Toa Kogyo also closed, and three more, run by Humax Cinema, which had featured everything from “Ben-Hur” to soft-core “pink” porn since opening in 1947, had shut six months earlier.

“We were able to reflect the faces of the times as well as experience changes as society evolved,” reads a statement on the Humax Cinema Web page, which also thanks customers for their past loyalty.

Kabukicho’s screen total has shrunk from 14 to four in a little over a year. Industry insiders place much of the blame on the arrival of the all-digital Shinjuku Wald 9, jointly run by Toei and Toho, and Shinjuku Piccadilly, also offering digital pics and operated by Shochiku, to the surrounding area.

It has been speculated that Toho would incorporate another plex into the future project on the Koma site — perhaps a last hope for the area to remain a cinema Mecca — but that appears unlikely given the exhibitor’s presence at Wald 9 and the current market.

“We are not sure that three new theaters so close together can coexist from a demand point of view,” says Toho representative Junichi Tamaki.

Note: This article originally ran in Variety on February 11 as a part of a package on the Berlin Film Festival.