New Japan plex plan

Virgin will build cinemas in play for No. 2 spot

TOKYO — Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson announced Tuesday that his company will add five multiplexes in Japan in 2000 as part of a plan to become a major player in the world’s No. 2 movie market.

Branson was on hand to open the third multiplex Virgin has bowed in its first year in the Japanese market — a nine-screen, 2,141-seat complex, featuring THX sound technology — in the Tokyo suburb of Ichikawa.

Virgin Cinema Japan opened plexes in Fukuoka in April and Nagoya in November.

Ripe for Virgin

Branson said Japanese exhibs have done a poor job in serving consumers. “I think that the industry in Japan is quite slow. The number of screens built was far too few, and the quality of those screens wasn’t all that great,” he remarked in explaining his company found the Japanese market was ripe for development.

Branson said he plans to invest about $200 million in Japan to build 20 multiplexes in three to four years.

The Virgin move into Japan is financed in part with proceeds from the sale of company plexes in Britain and Ireland. Local partners include the Development Bank of Japan and Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank.

Metropolitan focus

He also disclosed other plans, noting, “We are looking at some of the major cities around the world for developing flagship cinemas in the same way we have flagship megastores around the world.”

Virgin Cinemas Japan president Mark Yamamoto said Virgin will not aim to become the leader in the Japanese market but instead will try to be a major player by developing sites that meet certain criteria.

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