On Jan. 19, Japan’s largest movie theater chain, Toho Cinemas, announced that it was cutting ticket prices at regional shinekon (short for “cinema complexes,” or multiplexes) starting April 5 in Utsunomiya, Midorii, Yojiro, Nagasaki, Kofu and Ueda. At present, standard ticket prices, meaning the price you pay at the box office, is ¥1,800 for adults. This will be reduced to ¥1,500 for persons 18 and older and ¥1,000 for persons under 18. The current pricing structure is more complicated. Patrons under 18 pay ¥1,500, while seniors 60 and older shell out ¥1,000. Then there are special discounts for advance purchase, women patrons on certain days, and other deals. In fact, one of the reasons Toho is initiating this new pricing system, which will supposedly go nationwide in a year, is to simplify ticketing; but, of course, the real reason is that movie prices are way too expensive and have been for years.
Since Toho is the biggest chain, others are eventually expected to follow suit, which is good news for theater-going fans, at least economically speaking. In terms of variety and quality of product, the news is not so good. Despite the fact that 2010 saw an increase in Japan’s box office revenues — a record ¥220.7 billion yen, 7 percent more than the box office in 2009 — the actual number of tickets sold was less than that sold in the previous year. Sales increased because of 3-D movies, which can add between ¥200 and ¥400 to the price of a regular ticket. With all the special discounts factored in, the price of an average ticket in 2010 was ¥1,266, which is 4 percent higher than the average ticket price in 2009.
In particular, 3-D boosted the profile of foreign films. The top five foreign box-office hits were all 3-D, while only one of the top five domestic hits, “The Last Message,” was a 3-D movie. Consequently, some analysts say the success of 3-D is misleading. One industry insider told Asahi Shimbun that 3-D had momentum in 2010 because of the success of “Avatar,” one of the only movies that did 3-D right. He sees interest in 3-D already fading in Japan, which could be extrapolated as meaning even less interest in foreign films. For the third year running Japanese movies outsold foreign movies overall, which is a self-perpetuating phenomenon. As fewer people patronize foreign films, distributors who specialize in them cut back on releases or go out of business altogether, thus reducing the availability of foreign product in theaters.