Photo/Illutration“Gaslight” plays at Marunouchi Subaru-za in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district. (Provided by Yurakucho Subaru-za)

  • Photo/Illustraion

On Dec. 31, 1946, the Marunouchi Subaru-za movie theater opened in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district.

World War II had ended only the year before. Shanties mushroomed and black markets teemed with shoppers in war-ravaged areas of the capital.

While the war’s scars were clearly visible, an entertainment-starved public flocked to the new cinema.

The theater was closed in 1953 after a fire, but was reborn in spring 1966 and renamed Yurakucho Subaru-za.

It was not unusual for movies shown there to draw more than 100,000 people. The 1967 British film “To Sir, With Love” was one such case, and so was the 1969 American indie “Easy Rider.”

“The theater has one screen and 270 seats. I can’t even begin to guess the number of days the tickets were sold out,” said Yoshiyuki Adachi, 62, the cinema’s current manager. “The extraordinary popularity in those days is simply beyond imagination.”

Adachi was a university student when he got off the train at Yurakucho Station in summer 1976 to see a Snoopy movie.

“There was a long line of people waiting outside the cinema,” he recalled. “I got there in the morning, but it was already around 3 p.m. when I finally got inside.”

Upon graduating from his university, Adachi joined Toho Co., where he became involved in establishing many multiplex theaters inside commercial facilities.

By the time he became Subaru-za’s manager in 2008, the pillar of the movie theater business had shifted to the multiplexes he had developed.

With Subaru-za definitely showing its age now, its management has decided to close it for good on Oct. 20.

Currently, it shows reruns of carefully selected classics.

On the day I went there, “Roman Holiday” was playing, and the seats were about 90 percent full.

An announcement on the PA system in a woman’s voice that sounded quaintly dated invited the audience to “sit back, relax and enjoy the film to the end.”

Then came the sound of a chime that is often rung at schools to announce the start of classes. I found this throwback to the old days a welcome change from sitting in a multiplex.

When the film ended and the lights came back on, many members of the audience began snapping pictures of the theater with cellphones as if missing the place already.

Two days from now, the final curtain will come down on this screen that has effectively embodied Japan’s postwar cinema history for half a century.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.