Is COVID-19 Going To Be the Death of Movie Theaters? Not in Japan

Written by: Associate Editor, Orlando Delgado

            The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hit the global market and economy relatively hard among other industries. One business in particular, the movie theater industry, has been one of the industries hit the hardest. As movie theaters and cinemas slowly start re-opening in the hopes of salvaging the industry a year into the pandemic, Japan has benefitted from a revitalization of its movie theaters. Movie theaters began re-opening in small numbers in Japan after COVID-19 government mandated shutdowns were eased on June 1, 2020. The theaters had to follow several safety restrictions such as reduced capacity, spaces between each theater chair so that no customer was sitting directly next to one another, and smaller food plates as opposed to large sharing plates.

            Over the course of the coming months, the number of attendees slowly started to rise as movie theaters kept on screening new releases. Despite the availability of traditional Hollywood blockbusters available to watch in movie theaters sans streaming services, local Japanese films have soared in popularity and movie-going attendance with Japan’s film-indulging customers. The weekend of January 1-3 earlier this year saw a record number of people in Japan watch movies in IMAX. Even before the IMAX box-office record, an animated film, “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train,” became the highest-grossing animated film in Japan ever, surpassing just over $313 million USD in Japanese movie theaters. These two movie-going records happened within two weeks of each other despite the ongoing pandemic.

Despite the upward success from the comeback of Japan’s movie theaters without operating at maximum capacity, Japan’s government issued another state of emergency on January 8, 2021 after experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the island country with a population of about 126 million. However, Japan’s pandemic lockdown guidelines are unique from other nations even at the very beginning of the global pandemic. Throughout the duration of COVID-19 spreading its way all over the globe, Japan has managed a relatively low infection rate with about 7,700 COVID-19 related deaths total. The real kicker with Japan’s pandemic management success when compared to Western nations and Japan’s East Asia neighbors is that the Japanese government has yet to issue a mandatory lockdown. Japan’s latest emergency orders simply ask that restaurants, bars, and other establishments such as movie theaters to close at 8 PM.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, outlines that Japan has taken a more “focused approach” with pandemic management. Japan’s attempted to balance the risk of COVID and safety of its citizens with the nation’s economy by implementing standard capacity limits, masking and social distancing with scaled back hours as opposed to total shutdowns that would hamper the nation’s economy and job market. These measures throughout the pandemic along with people needing an escape from being couped up in their homes all these months likely have contributed to the boom in Japan’s movie theater industry so long as the pandemic is kept under control and people are enjoying leisure activities like movie-going with standard caution and judgement. With the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts throughout the world starting to be made available to the public, the movie industry might not be obsolete just yet. Japan is proving the favorite pastime enjoyed by many people worldwide is still alive and well.

 Yoshikatsu Nakajima, Takumi Wakai, and Shimpei Doi, Cinemas, Gyms, Pubs Reopen In Japan, Outfitted To Fight COVID-19, The Asahai Shimbun (Jun. 2, 2020) available at http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13423698

Kelly Gilblom, Alix Steel, and Guy Johnson, Movie Theaters in Asia Are Thriving Despite Covid, Imax CEO Says, Bloomberg News (Jan. 5, 2021) available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-05/movie-theaters-in-asia-are-thriving-despite-covid-imax-ceo-says

Mark Schilling, ‘Demon Slayer’ Sets All-Time Record At Japanese Box Office, Variety (Dec. 27, 2020) available at https://variety.com/2020/film/news/demon-slayer-record-japan-box-office-1234875410/

Yuri Kageyama, Japan Partly Ending Pandemic Emergency, Keeps It For Tokyo, AP News (Feb. 26, 2021) available at https://apnews.com/article/pandemics-tokyo-coronavirus-pandemic-asia-pacific-japan-878b9d4fcb8e5bc4aee9c4774413fb70

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