Photo/IllutrationMovie-goers enjoy a different 4-D experience with special goggles and seats. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

In an era when movies can be viewed on smartphones, it sounds like a bad plot for multiplex operators to even consider raising ticket prices.

But that is what awaits many movie-goers at the box office from June 1, when general admission prices will rise from 1,800 yen ($16.50) to 1,900 yen.

The price increase among some of the chains will mark the first in 26 years.

However, chain operators are betting that the high-quality movie viewing experience they provide will not result in a drop in audience numbers.

"Just because it is a time when videos can be viewed in the palm of one's hands, there has been an increase in customers going to theaters because they want to see movies on large screens and with great sound quality," a movie industry source said.

In explaining why the ticket prices were being raised, officials of the multiplex chains pointed to increasing expenses, such as personnel and capital investment costs.

Shinichiro Kondo, who heads the marketing department at Toho Cinemas Ltd., explained that capital investment can range from construction costs for new multiplexes, expenses related to anti-quake measures, and installing screens and equipment to offer movies in 4-D and the IMAX screens that often take up almost the entire wall of a structure.

Toho Cinemas, which operates 66 multiplexes around Japan, will raise general admission prices by 100 yen, along with other discount tickets it offers to senior citizens, couples and women on certain days.

After Toho Cinemas announced the price hike in March, Tokyu Recreation Co., which operates 18 multiplexes, including the 109 Cinemas, also announced similar price increases.

But other multiplex chains were limiting their price hikes to discount tickets or to only a few complexes in central Tokyo.

While there are still theaters in smaller regional cities where movies can be seen for less than 1,800 yen, that price became an industry standard in 1993.

Movie distribution companies decided on the price hike then to make up for lost revenue brought about by declining audience numbers due mainly to the popularity of TV. That was the year when the number of movie screens in Japan hit a record low.

But 1993 was also the year that the multiplex concept with multiple screens developed in the United States first began appearing in Japan. That led to a steady increase in movie-goers.

After falling to about 119.6 million movie viewers in 1996, the number has been steadily increasing and reached 169.2 million in 2018. With audience figures returning to levels not seen since the 1970s, many multiplex operators were able to keep ticket prices at the same level for a quarter-century. Now multiplexes account for about 88 percent of all movie screens in Japan.

But not all have gone ahead with the price hike.

The largest chain operator, Aeon Entertainment Co., has 91 facilities around the nation, but it will not raise ticket prices, along with United Cinemas Co., which operates 41 complexes.

"Many of our multiplexes are located in shopping malls, and many of our customers take in movies while also shopping," said an official with Aeon Entertainment. "Because 100 yen is a large sum for consumers trying to find the cheapest bargains while shopping, we first want to analyze the trends at our rivals."

Movie journalist Hiroo Otaka welcomed the diverse paths taken by the multiplex chains over ticket pricing.

"In locations where there are a number of multiplexes, ticket prices may differ for the same movie," he said. "With the different prices, there is the possibility of competition arising to provide a higher quality of movie-going experience."