Japan's Cinemas Begin Partial Reopening

Tokyo - Getty H 2016
Courtesy of Getty Images

The tentative steps toward a theatrical reboot in the country — the world's third-biggest film market — follow encouraging signals that China could soon be back in business too.

Japan's major movie theater circuits have begun a partial reboot after shutting down mid-April, when the Tokyo government declared a national emergency in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Japan is home to the world's third-largest box office, so any significant resumption of business there will represent a significant step toward getting the global theatrical sector back on track. China, the globe's No. 2 film territory, said late last week that theaters would be allowed to reopen provided that necessary safety measures were established.

Toho Cinemas, Japan's largest film exhibitor, said Tuesday that it would reopen 10 theaters across the Japanese prefectures (akin to states) with the lowest reported coronavirus caseloads. Nationwide chain Aeon Cinemas said Wednesday that it would be following Toho's lead, rebooting 27 multiplexes in 16 prefectures beginning May 18.

Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said Monday that his government was working toward lifting the state of emergency early in 34 prefectures where COVID-19 is on the decline. Tokyo, Osaka and many of Japan's other largest population centers will continue to advise a lockdown, however.

Toho and Aeon have yet to release lineups of what films they will screen over the coming weeks. The theater companies said they will employ a range of safety procedures, including reduced theater capacity, socially distanced seating arrangements and requiring both customers and staff to wear masks.

Japan's leading art house cinemas, such as Tokyo's pioneering Uplink circuit, have yet to reveal reopening plans. A group of the country's small-scale cinemas have banded to together to create a temporary streaming platform for art house cinema to keep the local indie community afloat through the pandemic.