One Tokyo cinema, Cine Pathos in Ginza, is cataloguing its untimely demise through a medium it knows very well indeed.

by Christopher O’Keeffe

It’s been a tough time in recent years for cinemas, with attendances dropping and prices rising.

The ongoing economic downturn, not to mention the effects of the internet and illegal downloading, has hit the major cinema chains hard, but independent cinemas much harder.

Catering to a niche market of film enthusiasts and groups such as the elderly, who pay a discounted rate, these venues have been struggling to make ends meet and as a result have been closing at a frightening rate.

It’s not all doom and gloom however – studios reported some of their biggest profits ever last year, with major Hollywood blockbusters doing better than ever.

This leaves questions to be asked about the marketing and selling of films in the future, and of how alternative and independent cinema, and cinemas, can adapt and survive.

Independent cinemas have a style and charm all of their own. Anyone who has been to one of these establishments will have picked up on certain features – be it the the décor, the seating, the clientele or the selection of films it shows: French classics, double-bills, retrospectives of the great directors or some gem of a film you remember from when you were a child.

Off-putting to the multiplex crowd and enthralling to the cineaste, these are places where people arrive early and patiently wait in a specific seat, favoured for unfathomable reasons, and read a book, places where you won’t be admonished for bringing in food from outside, be it a bottle of green tea or a McDonalds.

Regulars can often be peculiar, in look or manner, but they add to the experience, and that’s what the cinema should be – an experience. It’s this that the big faceless chains have forgotten.

There’s no better feeling than settling down to see you’re favourite film, something you never thought you would have the chance to see on the big screen, played in front of you the way it was meant to be seen.

The Intermission is a film which pays homage to the soon to close Cine Pathos (in Ginza), to the films that it has played and to the people who frequent it.

Sadly, Cine Pathos was victim to some structural damage in the earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the authorities deemed the building unsafe and requiring demolition. It is due to close on March 31st and The Intermission will be the final film screened.

The film is a collection of scenes each dealing with different characters within the cinema, offering a snapshot of the lives of the people who visit and work within the picture house. The vignettes are a jumble of genres, mainly light hearted comedy and some of them quite silly with melodrama and even some horror and documentary interview thrown into the mix.

The main story thread is based around the cinema manager, played by Akioshi Kumiko, the popular film and television actress perhaps best known for 1988 horror flick, The Discarnates, and her young artist husband, played by the popular and talented Sometani Shota, who starred in Sono Shion’s Himizu and who is currently doing well in the box office with Strawberry Night.

Art imitates life as the manager worries about the cinema’s closing and how she will deal with it, as cinema regulars look back on their history with the theatre and question what its closing will mean to them.

Legendary actress Kyoko Kagawa gives an interview during The Intermission’s intermission, recalling her time working with legendary directors Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu, and inter-titles between scenes list a selection of old ‘today’s screenings’, giving an idea of the kind of films the cinema has shown over the years, from Fellini to John Ford. All of this will give you a sense of nostalgia and a feeling that this rich history of cinema is in danger of being forgotten.

Not all of the scenes work and the film was clearly made on a shoestring budget but it’s shot competently by critic-turned first-time-director Higuchi Naofumi, and it’s interesting to note that many of the cast waived their fee so the film could be made.

Anyone who has ever attended this cinema or any of the many like it in Tokyo, or anyone anywhere in the world, should find something they can relate to in this interesting, quirky film.

The Intermission is now showing, until March 15, 4/5 times daily. For a full schedule see the Cine Pathos website.

Also: Check out this video we found…