Fukushima Cinemas Struggling to Get Audiences Back

Some theaters in crisis-affected areas attracting more cinema-goers than those in unaffected cities.

FUKUSHIMA – Theaters in nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima Prefecture are struggling to get audiences back, with some of those in worse-affected cities doing better than those largely undamaged by the disaster.

Koriyama lies 42 miles inland from the stricken Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and had around 30,000 buildings damaged by the March 11 mega earthquake. It is also suffering from continued raised levels of radiation caused by the damaged reactors and has removed the topsoil of city school playgrounds to try and reduce exposure for local children.

“One of our screens fell down, the projectors got knocked out of alignment and we suffered some cracks in the theater walls,” Yusuke Murakoshi, manager of Koriyama Theater, an eight-screen multiplex spread across two buildings, told The Hollywood Reporter.

“We reopened on March 26 but there was nobody out on the streets and we were still experiencing big aftershocks. However, it’s got better since then and we are back to almost pre-disaster audience numbers,” said Murakoshi.

Another 25 miles west is Aizu-Wakamatsu, a historical city that has seen 80-90% of the tourist and school groups that normally visit cancel since the nuclear accident. This is despite the fact that the radiation levels there are actually lower than they are in Tokyo.

The city’s only screen is a 90-seater Aizu Toho cinema, part of Japan’s biggest distribution chain, but owned and operated by Yu’ichi Yoshikawa, who took over the theater from his father.

Aizu-Wakamatsu suffered minimal damage from the quake but the disaster left nobody in the mood to watch films.

“We stayed open throughout, but we didn’t have one customer for the first ten days after the earthquake,” said Yoshikawa whose son is a fireman who was sent to help stabilize the Fukushima plant. “I didn’t see any smiling faces on the children on the streets, so we decided to show the latest Doraemon [a popular anime series] for free, and 20 kids came.”

Yoshikawa says that audiences have trickled back since then but are still at half pre-disaster numbers – about 1 million yen ($12,400) per month.

“There are lots of good movies out there, and film is a part of culture. If you don’t watch films, you can’t say you’re cultured,” said Yoshikawa.

“But we only had two people at our lunchtime screening today. I own the building so I don’t have rent to pay, otherwise I’d have to give up.”