Friday, January 10, 2014

"Going to a Movie in January 2014"

Walking through the 1-Chome area of Kabukicho last night, I stopped in a square and looked around - thinking:

"Just about everything I knew back in the eighties from here is gone now....  Wait... the Godzilla Construction Monster missed one!  There's that old building with the movie theaters in it."

I pondered it for a minute - feeling grateful that *something* that I had known before was actually still there.  I started walking again, and when I was on the verge of walking by the older building, it suddenly occurred to me that that building might not exist for very much longer, so it might be a good idea to experience a movie inside while it's still possible to do so.

So I checked my watch and walked up to see what was playing.  There were four movie theaters; two of the movies had already begun showing the last screening of the day, but there was still time to see the other two, which were just about to begin.

"Hmm... 'Captain Phillips' or 'Gravity'..."

I was considering seeing "Gravity" when I noticed it was 3D and so I opted for "Captain Phillips" (in 2D) instead.  The thing I don't like about 3D movies is that they are actually *simulated* 3D movies.  I understand that they are real in the sense that two parallel images are taken and the effect reconstructed, but they're simulated in that the image is projected onto a flat screen, so they're a kind of virtual 3D, but not actual 3D.  Now, a hologram movie (actual 3D) I would be very interested in seeing (depending on the quality) - and for that you wouldn't need special glasses to trick your eyes with.  (I did see Avatar, and the 3D effect was interesting, but I still prefer honest 2D over virtual 3D.)

Anyway - I was later glad I chose "Captain Phillips", as it was (I thought/think) a great movie, with an interesting story line; creatively filmed, and with good music to keep the suspense in the air.

Now - back to the old movie theater!  How old?  I couldn't find the exact date of its construction, but apparently it's about 50 years old.  Taking a seat, I looked around and had flashbacks to seeing movies back in the 1980's, and after the movie, I walked over to the area with drink machines and flat bench seats (for sitting on before the movie).  It was the last showing of the day (last movie times are generally 7:00-9:00 here), so I couldn't spend much time there, but still there was a strong feeling of atmosphere in the space....

Back out on the cold and windy streets of January Tokyo, I pondered that atmospheric area of the theater and it occurred to me that maybe a big part of the interesting atmosphere of old places like that is how the same space has been used in the same way for several decades.  It's as though the years of people and their feelings while in the space have soaked into the walls to the point where the space practically glows with that old movie theater feeling of anticipation before a movie begins.  Add in the nervous excitement of young couples on first dates, etc. and you end up with an atmosphere that new places just don't have... and maybe never will have, since we now live in a world saturated with high definition images, so the excitement people felt when going to see a movie in the fifties, sixties, seventies and even nineties isn't felt so much any more.

Watching the movie with the powerful surround-sound system, I thought "Pictures in people's homes have gotten quite big, so the screen size in a movie theater isn't such a big deal, but it's pretty hard to match this level of sound intensity!"  You could just about (or actually) say that the main reason for going to a theater to see a movie now is for the sound experience.

The general decline in movie theater goers meant that even though the movie started in just five minutes (from when I bought the ticket), there were still seats.  I've gotten used to this since the last several movies I've seen always had seats, but I was still a little surprised by how few people were in the theater - especially considering it was a new movie with a well-known actor, etc.).  I think there were a total of about ten of us.  Seriously - that's not an exaggeration for effect or "virtually ten" (as in the perception of very few people even though there were actually more), but "actually ten".

[Tragic note regarding degradation of the English language: I *should* have been able to just write "literally ten of us", but massive numbers of imbeciles have hijacked "literally" to mean "virtually", so the real meaning of "literally" has been mainly destroyed - thus I have to write a sentence to explain the concept of what one word used to convey.  The disintegration of civilization and culture isn't pretty.]

When there are so few people in a theater, expectations of a good/perfect seat rise.  I looked at the hight of the screen relative to the rows and aimed for (what I consider to be) the best spot - a middle seat aimed at the center part of the screen.  The only problem was picking one that wasn't right in front of someone (so my head wouldn't be in the way) and also not right in back of someone (so their head wouldn't irritate me during the movie).  Fortunately, there was one such seat available on the center aisle (the man in the row behind me had fortunately chosen the second seat over) and so I could even stretch my right leg out into the aisle while watching the movie.

(As a related issue - I saw a free movie in a remote museum earlier in the week and I was the *only* person in the museum's movie theater!  The animated movie I saw was interesting for cultural and historical reasons, and begging to be written about, but there are political issues, so I'll stay away from discussing that one.  It would be impossible to write about in any detail without angering one group or another.)

Going back to the gang of ten movie-goers (it might have been nine, but I think ten), the lot of them appeared to be in their fifties (or maybe late forties).  This is exactly the generation that began going to movies before home video (tape, disk, or any format other than actual reels of movie film, which the vast majority of that generation didn't have), and most of us had probably seen movies in that very movie theater three or four decades ago.  Thinking about the situation of the entire audience (all ten of us - ha-ha!) being the same generation, I suppose the current trend of ever fewer movie theaters will continue and they will become a rare thing - with a few high-tech ones left to try out new technologies in.  (When do we get to see real [holographic] 3D I wonder?)

Another factor is that people are watching the TV series shows *instead* of movies now.  One reason may be something that came out in a conversation I recently had with a 20-year-old regarding movies:

LHS: "How often do you go to see a movie?"
20YO: "Never."
LHS: "Really!?  So you don't like movies then?"
20YO: "No, I like movies."
LHS: "Do you watch them at home then?"
20YO: "No."
LHS: "What do you watch?"
20YO: "Various TV shows."
LHS: "Why not movies?"
20YO: "Because they're too long!"
LHS: "..... Ah I see.  Yeah, they *can* be long, but some are only about 90 minutes...."
20YO: "..............."

And then there was a change of topic, but the concept of *never* seeing movies because they're too long(!) is fascinating to me, as it suggests our lives are so geared towards constant change and things coming at us from all directions that giving any single task two whole hours (sarcasm intended) is becoming unthinkable?

Well, for my part, the combination of having a little extra time on hand yesterday evening; pondering the rapidity with which the Godzilla Construction Monster devours Tokyo; noticing a still-undevoured old building with movie theaters in it; deciding to see a movie there before the GCM gets it; finding the theater to be nearly empty, and then having the movie turn out to be quite good was a great experience.  Y1,800 is a bit pricey, but for the experience I had yesterday, it was well-worth it.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon


diego.a said...

Everything is being reduced to <2-min clips: the MTV/Youtube standard. Even Shakespeare plays were cut because the original speeches were too long by the standards of the 1700s and 1800s.

It's also the age of distraction. People are using their smartphones for constant interruption. They only look up at the TV screen when something "interesting" happens. At least in the US. But, I bet the same thing happens in Japan.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon said...

Re: " They only look up at the TV screen when something 'interesting' happens. At least in the US. But, I bet the same thing happens in Japan."

Yes, it's exactly like that here as well. I've watched movies with people who - when something happens suddenly - look up from their cell phone and ask "What happened!? - What happened!?". I always think "If you want to know what happens in a movie, you need to *watch* the movie....