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JAPAN’S SCREEN TEST

Cinemark, Shochiku pact for multiplexes

TOKYO — Japanese filmmaker Shochiku Co. has entered into a joint venture with Dallas-based multiplex operator Cinemark Intl. Inc. to develop multiplex theaters in screen-starved Japan.

The new company will be called Shochiku Cinemark Theaters Ltd.; its first project, a seven-screen theater in the western city of Kobe, is planned to open March 20. The complex, called MOVIX Rokko, will launch the Japanese film giant into the multiplex arena.

Shochiku said there are 18 sites under discussions or negotiations for construction under the venture. By 2000 it plans to open 10 multiplexes, including a 12-screen theater in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, which has an opening date around 1999 or 2000, a Shochiku official said.

A joint venture

Shochiku and Cinemark will each have a 26.66% stake in the venture. The other partners include real estate developer Orix Corp., candymaker Lotte Co. Ltd., and other Japanese firms such as Obayashi Corp. and Shimizu Corp. The capital for the new venture will be 3 billion yen ($24.8 million).

Cinemark is the fourth-largest operator of multiplex cinemas.

The venture should help reverse the nearly 35-year slide in screens in Japan. The number peaked at 7,457 in 1960 and slipped to 1,747 by 1994. Only about half play international movies.

There are about 60 cities with populations of more than 100,000 that do not have a single movie theater.

With multiplexes mushrooming, the number of screens is predicted to balloon to 2,500 by the year 2000, according to reports made by industry execs at the CineAsia movie convention in Singapore in January.

Theater shortage

At the conference, Warner/Mycal managing director Kichira Osaka said the company intends to build 210 screens in Japan over the next few years. Warner/Mycal, the first multiplex operator in Japan, already runs eight theater complexes.

Kansas City-based AMC was the first to enter a major Japanese metropolitan market when it opened a 13-screen multiplex in the southwestern city of Fukuoka in the spring of 1996. It is the country’s largest multiplex.

AMC senior VP Mark McDonald told the Singapore conference the company plans to build in 10-15 Japan locations in the next five years.

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