Curtain comes down in Tokyo's Asakusa, where nation's first movie theater opened

October 23, 2012

By KAZUHISA KUROKAWA/ Staff Writer

The curtain has come down on a part of the cinema landscape of Tokyo that first enraptured Japanese audiences just over a century ago.

On Oct. 21, the lights went down in the last remaining three movie houses in Asakusa, a historic district just off the Sumida River where the nation's first movie theater opened in 1903.

Die-hard fans flocked to the final showings.

The theaters were operated by Chuei Co., a subsidiary of Shochiku Co., a leading movie studio.

One of theaters was housed in a building constructed in 1927. The other two were in a building erected in 1933.

The structures escaped the devastation of the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945 by U.S. bombers but were too old to be retrofitted to withstand a major earthquake, according to the operator.

A senior Chuei official was met with applause when he greeted fans for the final showing at the entrance of one of the theaters at 8:40 p.m.

Moviegoers had their photos taken with the signboards bearing the names of the theaters.

Asakusa, a part of the "shitamachi" district of old Tokyo that is known for its many temples, had as many as 36 movie houses in 1959, when the Japanese movie industry was in its prime.

A long line of fans formed for showings, which included one featuring Ken Takakura, an actor who starred in many yakuza films, and another with Kiyoshi Atsumi, the late star of the "Tora-san" series who played a luckless romantic traveling salesman.

But since the 1960s, movie houses there have been forced to close one after another.

Eiichi Yamamoto, 79, former adviser to Chuei, lamented the closure of the last remaining theaters.

"We tried very hard to keep alive the tradition of showing films in theaters," he said. "So I am really sorry."

Final showings included "Amazing Spiderman" and "Men in Black III."

By KAZUHISA KUROKAWA/ Staff Writer
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A senior official with Chuei Co., which operates the  last three movie houses in Tokyo's Asakusa district, thanks fans for a final time on Oct. 21. (Sayaka Yamaguchi)

A senior official with Chuei Co., which operates the last three movie houses in Tokyo's Asakusa district, thanks fans for a final time on Oct. 21. (Sayaka Yamaguchi)

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  • A senior official with Chuei Co., which operates the  last three movie houses in Tokyo's Asakusa district, thanks fans for a final time on Oct. 21. (Sayaka Yamaguchi)
  • People swarm to Tokyo's Asakusa district to see movies on Jan. 2 in 1938. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Movie theaters drew a large crowd in Tokyo's Asakusa district in 1960, when films were the king of entertainment. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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