Kiko Blossom is sitting in a red velvet cinema seat next to a handsome young man. A box of popcorn lies between them and their eyes widen in anticipation as the opening credits of the latest James Bond movie begin to roll.
Such a scene may bring to mind the start of a classic cinema date. This, however, is no conventional romantic rendezvous.
Because Kiko and her friend are in fact diaper-wearing babies, perched comfortably on the laps of their mothers (who are the ones munching on the popcorn) — and they are among dozens of tiny cinema-goers filling the seats of a central Tokyo cinema.
Welcome to the ever-innovative world of Tokyo’s activities for babies and their mothers.
For all its joys and pleasures, having a baby can be undeniably lifestyle-cramping. Along with nightcaps in cocktail bars, relaxing on long-haul flights and Saturday morning lie-ins, the simple act of going to the cinema is something that many mothers reluctantly consign to the Life Before Baby era of their lives.
Luckily for those who live in Japan, however, that does not have to be the case.
Every second Thursday, at dozens of venues across the country, Toho Cinemas runs its popular Mama’s Club Theater project, which involves a special screening for babies and their parents. The details have been well thought out: screening times start early in the day, lighting is dimmed only slightly (to minimize those rummaging-in-the-dark-for-diapers episodes), sound levels are baby-friendly and efficient staff provide a check-in service for baby strollers.
I first sampled the delights of the cinema-with-baby experience when Kiko was 5 months old and I joined a group of savvy mothers who are regulars on the Mama’s Club circuit.
Getting ready to go to the cinema on a Thursday morning knowing that a vast proportion of the country were tapping away on computers in windowless offices felt gloriously self-indulgent (a refreshing sensation in the world of motherhood).
The destination for our mothers’ outing was the Toho Cinema in Roppongi Hills, where we bought tickets and vast vats of popcorn before parking our baby strollers alongside dozens of others outside the theater.
Inside the normally dimly lit confines of the cinema, the lights were perfectly set to ensure that we could all see our chattering, cooing and yes, occasionally screaming babies — as well as the other mamas who had set up camp among rows of plush red seats.
Such was my excitement at the prospect of going to the cinema for the first time in what felt like an eternity, I had paid little attention to the film we were due to see: “Ninkyo Helper.”
This, in retrospect, was not very wise. And so it was that Kiko was introduced earlier than intended to the gritty world of yakuza dramas, complete with regular screaming, choreographed fight scenes and a complicated storyline that was swiftly lost on me due to the absence of subtitles.
But there were no regrets. I luxuriated in the ability to recline in a comfy cinema seat, eat popcorn and switch off my tired brain by staring inanely at moving images on a large screen — in between tending to the whims of the baby.
Fortunately, Kiko, it transpired, was equally happy in the newly discovered world of big screens: one nap, two diaper changes, one feed, one mini tantrum and a little play on the floor later and she had experienced her first film at the cinema, albeit one I was thankful she probably wouldn’t remember when she was older.
The next time we went? I was a little wiser and picked a film that I actually wanted to see (not that it was significantly more suitable for a baby): the James Bond film “Skyfall.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cinema was far more crowded this time, with an epic pile of parked baby strollers outside the door and a few renegade fathers sneaking inside (appearing far more excited by the film than the babies were).
And so I nursed, jiggled and diaper-changed Kiko for 143 minutes against the heady backdrop of a rugged Daniel Craig working his 007 charm from the bazaars of Istanbul to the wild plains of Scotland.
Once again, aside from a particularly loud explosion scene which triggered a small wave of surprised baby cries, the film proved to be a success among the surprisingly well-behaved audience of mini film critics.
And best of all? Kiko slept soundly through the final 30 minutes — allowing her grateful mama to finish both the popcorn and the film during a rare moment of maternal peace.
Mama’s Club Theater takes place every other Thursday at 46 Toho cinemas across Japan, including Roppongi Hills. Tickets are ¥1,800. Check the film schedule on the website (in Japanese) for timings and other information: www.tohotheater.jp/service/mamas_club_theater