It’s called Mini Theater Aid and it launched earlier today and lasts until May 15th with a target amount 100,000,000 yen that is hoped to be raised. It was set up by the directors Koji Fukada (Harmonium, Au revoir l’ete) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) in response to the closure of small cinemas up and down Japan as the country tries to contain Coronavirus infections.
Due to the recent declaration of a state of emergency, public venues have had to close and this means they will not be able to make money. In the absence of paying customers and any support from the government in paying rent and salaries and so forth, these cinemas may find themselves struggling as the shutdown unfolds. This emergency fund will help guarantee that these establishments, all of which are important to the cinema ecosystem of Japan, can keep going. It’s these cinemas that sustain indie films since they give the movies limited runs across the year as the films tour the country. In short, without these cinemas, indie film directors, film students and audiences would struggle to screen their works and people would struggle to see these films, especially in a community setting.
Not only are these cinemas places where people can watch films and meet filmmakers, each establishment has its own atmosphere that represents the community it serves and acts as a focal point for the unique cinematic knowledge and viewpoints of everyone involved. Any loss would only hurt film culture. Therefore, it is important to support these establishments for the wider community.
There are various tiers of support available running from 3000 yen to 500000 yen. Rewards include thanks from the organisers to being able to screen a whole bunch of indie films. In effect, this is similar to Donation Theater from two years ago although, in addition to streaming films, you can get various passes to see films at the theatres you help.
Many of the films are indies that have been written about in trailer posts and there will be a film by One Cut of the Dead director Shinichiro Ueda who will shoot his work remotely. It’s all in Japanese but easy to navigate. Some of the films are highly-rated indies so this is definitely worth donating to if you have enough cash and love Japanese movies. There are a diverse bunch of titles like Ryutaro Ninomiya’s drama Minori, on the Brink (Ojochan, 2019), the documentary about disabled athletes Kick (Dir: Kazuhiko Nakamura, 2018) and the dark dramas Peep TV Show and Thallium Girl’s Poisoning Diary AKA GFP Bunny both from Tsuchiya Yutaka, Koji Fukada’s Human Comedy Tokyo and Hospitalite and many more.
Alongside this is a Change.org campaign called #SaveTheCinema which is aiming to get 75,000 signatures for a petition lobbying the Japanese government for support for arthouse cinemas. Of course, I’ve signed.
I’ve been to about five of these cinemas:
Uplink Kichijoji (Musashino City), Shimokitazawa Tollywood (Setagaya-ku), Yujiku Asagaya (Suginami-ku), Kawagoe Scala Theater, Saitama Prefecture (Kawagoe City) and Cine Nouveau (Osaka City).
Indeed, I was at Uplink Kichijoji and Yujiku Asagaya only a few weeks ago when my girlfriend and I went to see a wonderful exhibit dedicated to the stop-motion film Gon, the Little Fox and a small animation festival made up of student works at each venue respectively. Each venue had its own unique atmosphere and was able to put on a dedicated show that revealed the craft behind the films as well as meet thee filmmakers at Yujiku Asagaya. As nice as streaming something is, it cannot facilitate such interactions which is why these places must survive.
Many creatives from Toshiko Hata to Ryutaro Ninomiya, Naomi Kawase and Kiyoshi Kurosawa are supporting this and the breakdown of how the funds will be spent looks like it will provide the best help for cinemas in these trying times.
You can donate to the campaign here: https://motion-gallery.net/projects/minitheateraid/updates
You can follow the campaign on Twitter at @MiniTheaterAID
These are tough times. If you can support, I am sure it would be greatly appreciated. Most importantly, take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Wear a mask, avoid crowds, and wash your hands with soap.