Shochiku will shutter theme park

Victim of recession belt tightening

TOKYO — Japanese movie studio Shochiku Co. said it will shut down its Tokyo area movie theme park as it lops off all but its core operations in order to cut costs.

Shochiku’s Kamakura Cinema World will shut down Dec. 15, a little over three years after it opened. Located about 90 minutes by train from Tokyo in the ancient city of Kamakura, the studio had been hit by declining attendance brought about by Japan’s recession.

The movie theme park was the first of its kind in Japan, and it was one of the many projects of former president Toru Okuyama that has been cut by the company’s new management. Okuyama and his son Kazuyoshi were ousted in a boardroom coup in January.

According to national broadcaster NHK, Kamakura Cinema World lost 1.6 billion yen ($13.3 million) for the business year that ended Feb. 28.

Trimming losses

In a statement, Shochiku said the loss of the theme park should cut its sales by about $2.75 million but help it trim net losses by $2.58 million for the business year that ends in February 1999. Shochiku is projecting a pretax net loss of $28.1 million for the business year ending in February.

Kamakura Cinema World was opened in 1995 on the 100th anniversary of Shochiku. The studio was built at a cost of $125 million and was expected to attract about 2 million visitors a year. It was supposed to be in the black after one year in operation, but Shochiku never came close to meeting its attendance and revenue projections figures.

Shochiku’s scaled-down version of Disneyland combined exhibits on Japanese movies, Kabuki drama and other attractions. It had a Hollywood Street area along with an area devoted to the “Tora-san” film series as well as rides.

Amusement park visitors, however, packed the gates at Tokyo Disneyland at record levels during Japan’s economic slump while virtually shunning the homegrown movie theme park.

Tightening focus

Shochiku’s new management is focusing the company’s attention on its movie production and distribution operations as well as Kabuki theatricals.

Earlier in the year, reports surfaced that Shochiku would dissolve its partnership with multiplex developer Cinemark Intl. of the U.S. to build theaters in Japan.

Shochiku will buy out the 26.66% share Cinemark has in the venture called Shochiku Cinemark Theaters, and will bring its own equity stake in the Japanese multiplex company to 53%, the financial daily Nihon Keizai reported, citing Shochiku sources.