All About Japanese Cinemas: Why Are Movies in Japan Expensive? | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

All About Japanese Cinemas: Why Are Movies in Japan Expensive?

By Guidable Writers Feb 28, 2019

Cinema times are changing not only in Japan but in the rest of the world as well. However, people are still as much in love with the theater as ever, despite knowing that Japan has one of the world most expensive prices for the movies. People in Japan love watching movies both Japanese produced movies as well as western movies. Nevertheless, I believe most of us know that Japanese movies are very different from western movies.


Reason Behind Expensive Japanese Cinemas

First of all, it is time to unravel why it is so expensive to go to the movies in Japan. Japan is labeled as one of the world most expensive countries, standing as number 7 in the countries with the most expensive movie tickets in the world. On number one is the Arab Island country Bahrain, second is Switzerland followed by Scandinavian countries and then Japan.


In Japan, going to the movies is seen as a luxury activity. We know that whenever you label something as a luxury, the prices of them rise. It is just like fruits being very expensive in Japan. Comparing the movie prices to the Scandinavian countries, Scandinavia has a very strong socialistic system where the average tax ticket make up for 20% of its price. This makes sense, however, the Japanese tax rate is at 8% (will be raised to 10% in October 2019) and still costs around 1800.



A bigger factor for the high prices is because of TOHO Cinema Ltd., and Shochiku Corporation Limited. They are the biggest companies in Japan producing domestic movies. With only those two companies being in control in the movie industry, they control the price of the tickets. It has become a monopoly for the movie industry in Japan, with close to zero competition. Therefore, if the leading companies do not reduce the price of movie tickets, they are bound to remain very expensive in Japan.


Moreover, it is not only the tickets that are expensive when going to the movies. Even the popcorn and the drinks are extremely expensive. With the tickets costing 1800 yen for an adult, if you want popcorn that would an extra 600 yen and drinks are usually 400 to 500 yen. Think of a scenario with a mom and her two children around 15 years old, the costs would quickly escalate to 5000~6000 yen only to go to see a movie.


Bringing food or drinks in most theaters is prohibited, as you may know. On the other hand, it is quite a known thing that in many countries, people go buy popcorn and drinks from the store and then sneak it into the theaters anyway. However, in Japan, if you ask a Japanese person if they would like to buy a packet of popcorn or a dink from the store for around 100 yen, they would immediately refuse and shy away. That is not something they would do as “it is not the right thing to do”; following the rules is the way of life in Japan. They will most likely say not buying it from the cinema will influence the movie industry because they would not make any money out of it. So for the sake of the theater, they rather spend their money there.


Recently, a new trend in statistics has been seen among young people; they are not going to the movies as much. With so many cinemas in Japan and fewer people going to spend their money there, the leading companies are worried. Thus, new strategies have been reinforced. One of them being Ladies day on Wednesday, the tickets for only the ladies are reduced to 1200 yen on Wednesdays. Another new countermeasure taken into action is movie prices are discounted to 1200 yen for the late night shows.


Despite the pricing, expensive popcorn and beverages, and the decreasing amount of people going to the Cinemas; people in Japan still love going to the movies. Most of them feel relaxed in the theatrical atmosphere and they feel like they are giving themselves and sometimes their partners a luxury and quality time. Whether it’s a movie they are patiently waiting to watch or if it is for killing some time while waiting to meet up with some friend for a drink, the movies is a place for them.


It is not strange to often see a Japanese person going to watch a movie by themselves. Rather, recently it has become a new thing. Going on a date can be very expensive and it also could destroy the mood of the date if one of them did not like the movie. Therefore, they tend to go alone to see a movie and enjoy some time by themselves for themselves. Personally, I have never gone to see a movie by myself, however, when I ask my boyfriend, he loves going there whether it is with me or without.


You might wonder what kind of movies the Japanese are into. They love Japanese movies and anime. However, good Japanese theater “content” has a very different meaning in Japan than for us who are used to western movies. We might get divided into two groups; either we understand Japanese movie theater or we just don’t get it.


This means that if you are into Japanese actors standing about 4 meters (about 13 feet) apart and shout at each other in the rain for 10 to 15 minutes, then you might be one those who understand Japanese movies and the culture. The example presented can have a very dramatic effect on the movie but also extremely wet actors as well. If you are into that, that’s awesome!


Other things that are unique to Japanese movies and that Japanese people love are:


  • That actors tend to face the camera with one person’s back to the other. Why would anyone ever talk to someone’s back, most probably in the rain, a very gloomy scene or the ending when trying to show off the hero by making him talk to other showing them his back. Japanese people think it is extremely cool and are totally into it.


  • Suspense movies with twisted Japanese humor. That is very foreign to us foreigners but are very popular in Japan. There usually is a scene or two of shoot outs with the cops and the bad guys. However, taking into consideration that holding a gun is illegal in Japan, how come even the police are holding guns. One reason would be that Japan is a very safe country where Heiwa (peace and harmony) lives. So, in order for that extra little action excitement kick in an average Japanese lifestyle, they lean to their movies.


  • The must-have scene where the characters go up to school or hospital rooftops and have conversations. It is usually during the beginning of the movie where they are fast forwarding what the main characters life looks like in order to proceed with the story. Or it is in the intermission of the movie where people are having a normal conversation and the lead character come to some sort of a realization.


This can be because Japanese people, in fact, do go up to those rooftops and eat lunch there. Even working people go to their company`s rooftops for a little fresh air and alone time. However, if you ask me, it really just sounds like someone is screaming to get suspended in real life.


  • The pacing in Japanese movies which is one very interesting technique. A Japanese movie usually being around 90 minutes long, which is longer than the average American movie, is sometimes filled with 20 or 30 minutes of no story or link to the story. The director has time but maybe no extra scenes or content. So, in order to stretch it a little bit to fit the time frame, they have very long never-ending scenes.


One such scene is for example when the point of the scene is to show how sad the main character is; there will sometimes be around 20 minutes spent of showing exactly and only that. This does kind of feel like it takes the soul away from the movie. However, thinking from a Japanese person perspective, they really like digging deep in the wound and know exactly everything about why it is so, even if it does not have a direct correlation with the story.


  • Japanese movie characters are usually a high school character. Either it starts from that time frame and something happens in high school which remains with the character until the end, or it is a movie about high schoolers having a good time, getting into trouble and going through a heartbreaking love story.


There is even a saying that goes like “for every Japanese person, their high school lovers will never be replaced or be loved more than by any other compatible life partners that may come later in their lives. The rumors about Japanese people believing their high school years are their only golden years as very true and still very much alive.


Why Are Movie Publication Dates in Japan Different?

Publication dates are different in Japan. Even though the tickets are expensive in Japan, the facility and the atmosphere that you experience in Japanese cinema halls is almost overwhelming, thus I believe that we should spoil ourselves after a long and stressful period of work and everyday life stress. However, this can be very frustrating for us to love going to the theater. There are a number of reasons for this.


A movie releasing America will take about 2 to 6 months to show in Japan. There are a number of reasons for this though.


First, translation and localization is a big issue. As most of the western movies are created for an American or western audience, most of the expressions or sarcastic jokes would not make sense even if translated directly. Furthermore, finding good professional translators and localization is very difficult.


Sometimes, the storyline has to be reinterpreted in Japanese. This means that for a bilingual person would be shocked and surprised as some small part of the story have to be adjusted to make it more reliable for the Japanese audience, and this can lead to some of the key plots becoming completely different.


Marketing is also a major issue. As the Japanese movie industry is a monopoly, they tend to release movie so that they do not come in conflict with each other. For example, if Ghibli is coming out with new animation, other movies with be scheduled so that it will not hurt the box office of the potential Japanese movie. In Japan, local movies are prioritized over foreign movies meaning that foreign movies will be pushed back if even released in Japan at all.

Unique and Innovative Movie Theaters in Japan



Japan has very innovative movie theaters. The buildings are beautiful huge and clean buildings with the best facilities you can imagine. On the top of the theater building in Shinjuku, a life-size replica of the world famous Godzilla is peering down. Not only in Shinjuku, but also in Hibiya and other Theaters in Tokyo you will most likely see a statue of a creature, and it is amazing!


Another amazing innovation in Japanese theaters is 4-D. The motion picture “Attack on Titan” was released in 4-D in Toho Cinema Roppongi Hills, in Minato ward. Shortly after the movie started rolling, in response to the action scenes the seats would rock. Water would also be sprayed out from the armrest and smoke is belch around the screen. This is a very fun experience which I believe is a must-try for all movie lovers!



The movie theaters also have royalty and VIP seats called “platinum seats”. Depending on which theater you go to this can vary, however, the Shochiku theater complexes have arranged for seats with room for two people calling it the “pair-seats”. The customers are treated like royalty with an exclusive elevator to the platinum seats. There are beverages, wines, cocktails and meals being served as well.


Is It Worth Going to These Expensive Japanese Cinemas?

Going to the movies for an average person who is living, studying and working in Japan is expensive; however, it is a very enjoyable experience. I believe going to the movies will never become old, and our love for going to see a movie to see our favorite actors will forever be there. The Japanese service is excellent and the money is worth it when we need to cheer up or have some fun once in a while.