Photo/IllutrationThis auditorium at a United Cinemas complex in Tokyo’s Odaiba district has equipment for three-screen projection. (Provided by United Cinemas Co.)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A sense of alarm has led to the transformation of cinemas that are now giving customers a movie-watching experience they can’t get at home.

Recently available features include three-screen projection that immerses viewers into the action, seats that vibrate in sync with the scenes and sound, and even wind blowing indoors.

The idea is to stimulate all the senses of the movie-watchers.

The changes are being driven by intensifying competition.

Although demand is rising for online video-on-demand services, movie theaters have grown in number. But they cannot survive without emphasizing a “special” quality.

Part of the Toho Cinemas Hibiya complex, which opened on March 29 in Tokyo under the banner of “movie palace,” allows customers to watch movies in a spacious leather reclining seat for an extra fee of 3,000 yen ($28).

In some auditoriums of the complex, screens with widths of 20 or so meters--1.2 times as large as customary screens--have been installed. A custom-made speaker system, the first of its kind in Japan, has been installed for one screen to match the theater layout.

“We have created this special and luxurious feel,” said a representative of Toho Cinemas Hibiya. “That allows our customers to have a respite from their ordinary lives.”

An action film was showing March 29 at a complex of the United Cinemas chain in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.

During a car chase, projected images appeared abruptly on the right and left walls, in addition to those on the main front screen, giving viewers a compelling night view of streets whizzing by at high speed.

The cinema complex in Odaiba is the only movie theater in Japan with the three-screen projection equipment.

“The system provides the ultimate sense of reality so viewers may feel like they are really part of the scene,” said a representative of United Cinemas Co., the chain operator.

Over the past three years, the Aeon Cinema chain has adopted 4DX technology that vibrates seats and blows wind in sync with the imagery and music, at seven of its cinema complexes.

A United Cinemas complex in the Hakata district of Fukuoka delivers full dishes, such as hamburgers and curry, to customers’ tables so they can eat while watching a movie.

Screening sessions are also now available across Japan where viewers can wave glow sticks and cheer. Other sessions feature maximum sound volumes to enhance the impact of the movie.

Major cinema operators began realigning their theaters in the late 1990s, which led to the emergence of complexes and heavy investment in equipment.

The number of movie screens grew 7 percent over the five years through 2017. Visitor numbers, meanwhile, have remained largely unchanged in recent years.

At the same time, flat-fee online video-on-demand service operators, such as Netflix Inc. of the United States, are gaining a ballooning number of subscribers.

“Movie theaters find it increasingly necessary to emphasize that they can provide a respite from the ordinary, which viewers can never experience at their homes,” the United Cinemas representative said.