Japan’s film exhibition business, which shut down in mid-April in response to the government’s state of emergency declaration, has begun slowly reopening. Japan is the world’s third largest cinema box office market behind North America and China.
On May 11 the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that it was arranging to lift the state of emergency for the 34 prefectures least affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The remaining 13, including Tokyo and Osaka, are still under emergency advisories, which include theater closures, until the end of the month.
Toho Cinemas, Japan’s biggest exhibition chain, has since announced that it will reopen ten of its theaters in the 34 least affected prefectures, on May 15. A handful of independent theaters in these areas are back in business.
On Wednesday, another big chain, Aeon Cinemas, also announced a partial reopening. A total of 27 Aeon multiplexes in 16 prefectures will open their doors starting on May 18.
On April 16 Aeon shut down 92 theaters in 35 prefectures and cities, including Tokyo.
Both Toho and Aeon are taking measures to protect the safety of theater-goers, such as requiring all staff to wear masks, providing hand sanitizer at theater entrances, using clear plastic screens to limit interactions with staff, and spacing assigned seats to maintain social distancing.
The programming of the reopened theaters is still a work in progress, with no screening schedules listed yet on the Aeon and Toho sites. The release of all new films has been postponed, including major Hollywood and local titles, though opening dates for some have been announced through the summer months.