Go See A Movie! A Guide to Japanese Movie Theaters

A local and international selection.

Are you an expat tired of missing all the major films you hear everyone talking about back home? Are you a tourist wanting to catch the next big anime movie without waiting several months or years for it to finally release in your home country? Then go see it here in Japan, it's easier than you think! Recently I went to Wald 9 Theater near Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to see a special English-subtitled release of the popular anime movie Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale (yes, I'm a bit of an otaku) and here's what you need to know to go see a film on the silver screen.
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The first question you'll probably have is, "OK, but how do I find out what is showing where and when?" Well a good old Google search is certainly one way of doing it, but The Japan Times newspaper keeps an updated list of films showing now and Tokyo Filmgoer can tell you specifically about English language movie events. As to language accessibility, here's some general trends I've noticed in my time in Japan:
  • Foreign films are often left in their original language with Japanese subtitles added, but are occasionally dubbed over as well, so pay attention to make sure you buy the right ticket.
  • Domestic films are usually left in Japanese, so you'll need to be on the lookout for special English-language screenings (I only found out about the Sword Art Online English-subbed screening through an anime fan website).

Once you've found your theater, film, and showtime, you may notice something else: Japanese movie tickets are expensive! I wish I better understood the economics behind it, but the average ticket will set you back a solid 1800 yen ($18), and once I ended up paying a whopping 3300 yen ($33) for an IMAX screening of La La Land! Back in the States, a weekend evening ticket only costs $11 at the average cinema, so going to the movies is a bit more of an investment here in Japan. You can purchase tickets online or at the theater itself. One last thing to remember about tickets is that most movie theaters have reserved-only seating, so make sure you don't end up in somebody else's spot! (That also means you can guarantee your own spot, no race for the best seats before the movie starts!)

Once you have your ticket, you'll find a Japanese movie theater is largely similar to an American movie theater, although there are a few noticeable differences:
1) The concession stand has green tea as a beverage. Isn't that too healthy for a movie theater? That's not the only unique item you might find on the menu...
I know I never saw any theater back in the States try to sell me 'Organic Cajun Chicken'...

2) Be prepared to take the escalator up to your screen! Because of Japan's crazy high population density, it makes more sense to build the theater up than build a sprawling multiplex like the ones back in the USA.
New, popular films will usually be on the lower floors while older or more niche films will be farther up.

3) On the way out, be sure to check out the movie goods shop in the lobby. Most theaters will have them, and it's a good place to grab a poster or some other piece of merchandise that might be hard to find elsewhere.
See you at the movies!
Come to the Otaku side, we have bamuchen and Pocky sticks.

Hayden Murphy