Movie theaters are struggling to survive. Not only in Japan but worldwide, the rise of the internet, home cinemas, and the abundance of DVD and Blu-ray releases, are preventing people from visiting the classic movie theater.
The box office revenues continue to decrease, and companies seek alternative routes to make money through their extravagantly expensive productions. The Japanese movie industry is not known for its expensive productions and always preferred to focus on story-telling than special effects. But now that the local old-style movie theaters are struggling to survive, the industry had to evolve to survive.
What’s the first rule of cinema goers everywhere? You must keep quiet in the movie theater. There is nothing more annoying than having to put up with whispering and laughs and pop-corn chewing when you just want to see the movie. In Japan, theaters always show a short warning footage that says, ‘Please stay quiet during the movie.’ We have to be considerate of the people around us. Maybe the guy next to me wants to hear the movie instead of me analyzing every scene to my buddy next seat. ‘Cheer Screening’ takes the rule and throws it out the window.
In 2014, Disney’s Frozen (a huge hit in Japan) screened a celebration even called Frozen Sing-Along. I guess I don’t need to spell to you what the audience was expected to do during the movie. The event was a disaster. It hardly drew any attention, since for Japanese viewers, cinema is a place where you are supposed to keep quiet, not a karaoke room!
However, that mentality changed when an anime film called King of Prism by Pretty Rythm was released in January, 2016. Kinpri was a sequel to an anime series called Pretty Rhythm: Rainbow Live. During the first few screenings the theaters remained empty. With only 14 theaters screening the movie and a projected revenue of 30,000,000 yen, the director expected to finish the run with a loss. However, history proved him wrong, and a combination of word-of-mouth and Twitter chatter changed everything. Ouen jouei (cheer screenings)was starting to become known.
‘Cheer Screenings’ let the audience talk to the characters on screen, shout in harmony with their favorite quotes, swing glow sticks to cheer them, and scream the names of their favorite idols just like in a concert. It sounds strange, but this deviant behavior drew a lot of attention and the viewers kept increasing. ‘Sing Along’ screenings made the Japanese audience feel forced to sing. ‘Screening Events’ let them choose how to interact with the film or the characters. Their popularity steadily increased since all movies chosen for screening events had good stories and quality animation.
The first time I heard about screening events was through a tweet. A friend of mine had tweeted something nonsensical after attending a screening event. The majority of tweets were nonsensical to be honest: ‘I was done by the shiny prism’, ‘Kinpri is great’, ‘basically free at 1500 1600 yen’ (So sorry, I revised price on Nov 21), ‘I beg you to watch’, ‘honey from backside’, ‘EZ DO DANCE’, ‘wear like a Greek, get on the train bound for Hollywood to become a star’. But they all sounded so happy that I decided to go check one of these screenings. It. was. awesome. Really, it was amazing. It was such a unique experience, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt happy. Do you think I’m exaggerating? I ended up going to twelve screening events in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo.
Playing a little on Frozen’s success, it really was for the first time in forever for me to see a movie where the audience started screaming ‘Takara Tomyyy! Thank youuuuuu!!!’ when the co-sponsor’s name was shown on the screen. You just can’t but crack a smile when that happens.
If you want a sneak peek at what’s happening at a ‘Cheering Event’ watch the following video. Everyone is swinging their glow sticks, screaming and shouting to the characters on screen!
This is their official trailer. It shows how the audience is ‘Cheer Screening’.
The phrases and jokes the audience uses depend on the location, and attendees can experience a very different ‘Cheer Screening’ every time they attend. Even though everyone is watching the same movie, the human interaction is considerably changing the mood in the theater. It’s a new genre of movie entertainment that you can’t experience anywhere else. Since its inception in January, 2016, this unique experience is gaining more followers. Theaters are full every time a cheering event is held, months after the premiere. Kinpri stopped its screenings six months after the premiere. Some theaters still host limited season screenings.
After Kinpri’s success, many movies had their own ‘Cheer Screening’ events: Shin Godzilla, High & LoveLow (So sorry, I revised title on Nov 21), Yowamushi Pedal, and Haikyuu.
Tsukaguchi SUN SUN Theater in Kansai. Deep Bass Woofer Screenings!
The evolution of the Japanese movie theater doesn’t stop in ‘Cheer Screenings’. There are more forms to discover.
Tsukaguchi SUN SUN Theater is an old movie theater in Amagasaki, Hyogo. It’s been open for more than 60 years near Tsukaguchi Station on Hankyuu Line. You can mostly tell that the theater is reaaly old by the furnishing, but what’s really unique about it is the acoustics. They have a special sub-woofer system that is designed to produce low frequency sounds that are not generally used in movie theaters. They are so low that they feel more like vibrations that go through every part of your body and less like sounds. They call this special acoustic arrangement ‘Deep Bass Woofer Screening’.
I watched King of Prism by Pretty Rhythm there and I have to admit that the sound was the clearer I have ever experienced in a cinema room. I could feel the deep bass and the sounds effects were crisp and clear. I felt like I was inside the anime world. The characters were in front of me, taking me in with them. I felt like I could sing and dance with them. Such was the shock that many in the audience started crying.
The movie theater has screened many movies using this unique woofer system: Mad Max, Shin Godzilla, Girl und Panzer, and the Heisei Gamera series. The theater is probably the only one in the Kansai area that tries hard to cope with the times and update the entertainment value it provides to its viewers, even though it’s not easy to get to.
Tachikawa Cinema City uses its own low frequency sub-woofer acoustics arrangement, ‘Bakuon Jouei’ (Roaring-sound screening)! The vibration is so intensive that you can see dust whirling in the front rows and most visitors think that ‘the building may collapse’. There aren’t many theaters use their first row of seats for their sound system.
The cinema provides the audience with a superb sound quality that you don’t normally find in conventional movie theaters. They carefully select their films among a list of must-watch titles that can bring the best out of their sound system.
The theater is located a bit far from the heart of Tokyo, but many cinema fans gather here due to that system. They are currently screening Girls und Panzer der Film (November 2016) so if you’re close to the area, you have to give the screening a chance.
More than 3D or 4DX. A New Way to Experience a Movie.
Today, there is only a small margin of time between the theater version and the Blu-ray version of the movie. So small that most people have no problem waiting for the chance to see it in the comfort of their homes.
However, movie theaters offer you an experience like no other. If you are tired of the conventional movie theaters, you can try one of the Cheer Screenings. Shout and scream with other fans. Share your emotions freely and feel immersed in the movie world in way you’ve never been before.
The two theaters I featured in this article prove that you don’t need modern equipment like 3D or 4DX to enjoy a movie. You just need a unique idea, maybe a sub-woofer or two, and an open mind on what is proper behaviour during a screening.
Why don’t you try something new the next time you go to the movies?