Photo/IllutrationFamilies and friends enjoy a movie at the “shared theater” Aoniza in Nara. (Ryo Miyazaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARA--No cinemas may be left in this city but now you can take charge of your own movie house and invite over some friends.

Naramachi Theater Aoniza here enables you to celebrate such cinematic togetherness.

The small private space offers a unique service for movie buffs to spend quality time with their friends and family members while watching their favorite films.

Equipped with a full-fledged acoustic system, Aoniza boasts itself as a “shared theater” where fans can bring DVDs and have the place all to themselves.

Aoniza stands in the Naramachi district in the city center, about 500 meters south of Kintetsu-Nara Station. The private theater has 15 sofa seats for the same amount of people and a 120-inch screen. Twelve loudspeakers are mounted around the screening room.

Users are the “owners” on a day of their choice. They visit the theater, open the door with a key, and clean up the place before they leave the facility. Guests can also bring their own food and drinks.

Recent users included a group of mom friends who brought their small children and enjoyed watching a movie together for the first time in a while. Two 30-something women also threw a surprise birthday party for their movie-loving father. Hardcore fans got together on the morning of the day when a new “Star Wars” film was released and “reviewed” the recent three films from the space opera saga before they went out to see the latest film.

Takeshi Tajima, 46, from Nara, watched a rented anime film at Aoniza on a Sunday in late January with 11 others including his wife, son, and sisters of his daughter’s classmates.

“My wife can also concentrate on watching movies without worrying about household chores and other matters,” he said. “It is also good because we can talk about the movie after we see it.”

Aoniza was set up by human resources and education consultant Koichi Hirata, 56. He had lived in Tokyo for a long time, but returned to Nara Prefecture, where he spent his childhood days, in 2013 because of work obligations. He moved into an old “machiya” wooden house in the Naramachi district, but he couldn't fully enjoy watching movies because of the thin walls.

Three years prior to Hirata’s return, movie theaters had all closed down in Nara. He wanted to make a decent theater room that could also be rented out to the public.

He studied car-sharing and vacation rental systems before opening the rental theater in August 2015. After it created a buzz on the Internet, the number of owners rose to about 40, with its members coming not only from Nara Prefecture but also from neighboring Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.

While an increasing number of people watch movies on personal computers and tablets, Hirata is convinced that audience members will always cherish the whole atmosphere of the movie theater and the moments they share with their companions.

“Because it has become a time of individuality, I think it is important for us to have a ‘place’ like a movie theater,” Hirata said.

Membership fees vary depending on how people want to use the place. For example, it costs 3,000 yen ($26) for a three-month fee to book the theater on a certain day of a week and an additional 2,500 yen to use the space for two and a half hours. “Visitors” pay 10,000 yen for a one-off use.

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