Ten days after Japan’s worst ever natural disaster, the industry has begun rallying to continue doing business and provide aid to stricken regions through a multitude of initiatives.
Since the March 11 earthquake, which triggered a devastating tsunami and damage to Fukushima’s nuclear reactor, it has been the territory’s distribution and exhibition business which has been most affected.
With cinema managers and staff among over 340,000 displaced residents across seven prefectures in Japan’s Tohoku and Kanto regions, as well as ongoing damage inspections being carried out, both independent cinemas and multiplex sites of major chains Toho, Shochiku (Movix) and Warner-Mycal remain closed in hard-hit Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures.
Additionally, Fukushima nuclear power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company’s rolling blackouts in Tokyo and surrounding cities has made it difficult for cinemas to do anything but suspend operations.
For distributors, a combination of logistical factors (notably print delivery) and entertainment industry restraint has seen a string of delayed and pulled releases in the first week of the disaster including Hereafter, Battle: Los Angeles, The Rite, and Chinese-language megahit Aftershock. Disney’s Tangled, which opened on March 12, lost 175 of its 500 screen release due to the disaster. With Monday being a national holiday in Japan, this week’s box-office numbers are not yet available.
Even some film productions were halted, including the 35th installment of Toei’s long-running Super Sentai hero action franchise, delaying its May release indefinitely.
However, with transportation and electric power issues beginning to normalize Japan’s largest exhibitor Toho Cinemas returned to nearly full operations outside of directly affected areas this past weekend (Mar 19). Only late shows are still on hold. The company is also collecting donations at its head offices.
Toei exhibition subsidiary T-Joy resumed regular business on Mar 18 and is taking donations at its cinemas.
Individual celebrities such as Ken Watanabe and singer-actor Gackt are helping raise considerable amounts of relief. The latter’s campaign has just surpassed $1 million.
Distributors, too, are beginning to have a change in attitude toward the positive and going ahead with their slates.
Distributor Asmik Ace will open Tsutomu Hanabusa comedy High School Debut on April 1 as planned. Asmik Ace CEO Masao Teshima commented on the decision.
“To the victims who’ve suffered through this devastating tragedy, we hope as a provider of entertainment we can, in some small way, bring back feelings of hope for a bright future as the nation recovers.”
Despite several stage appearances by Hollywood and local stars at scheduled premieres being called off, Shochiku took advantage of the March 19 release of teen fashion-themed title Runway Beat [pictured] to raise money and officially launch the company’s donation activities.
The film’s cast took the stage at Shochiku’s reopened flagship multiplex in Shinjuku, raising several thousand dollars from cinemagoers. Runway Beat products such as tote bags and t-shirts were also shipped to evacuation centers.
The festival circuit is rallying as well. As previously reported in ScreenDaily, the Okinawa International Movie Festival (OIMF) announced that it would go ahead with this year’s edition (Mar 18-27). OIMF holds its official opening ceremony tomorrow (Mar 22), with a comprehensive disaster relief campaign in place.