Two movie theaters in Tokyo’s Kamata district are offering “barrier-free” films for people with hearing or visual impairments.
At Theatre Kamata and Kamata Takarazuka, both located in a commercial and industrial area near Haneda airport, subtitles are shown on large displays and narration is provided through FM radio in special screenings every Sunday through March.
More than 20 movie houses operated near JR Kamata Station in Ota Ward during the early 1960s, the golden age of Japan’s motion picture industry. The two theaters, now the only ones left in the area, began offering movies for the benefit of the hearing and visually impaired last May on a trial basis.
On the second floor, large displays showing subtitles are provided for those with hearing difficulties. Users can also bring portable audiovisual terminals such as iPhones and receive wireless information.
However, users may have difficulty deciphering whose subtitles are being shown on the display, and translating the movie’s sound effects into visual information is not easy.
The theaters also lend users special headphones equipped with small displays, while bodily sensation seats generate vibrations along with sounds in the movie.
For the visually impaired, the theaters offer a voice guide service via FM radio.
Sho Terada from Setagaya Ward, a 27-year-old student at a vocational school, watched a samurai drama with the aid of a small display at Kamata Takarazuka.
“I found it troublesome to look at the screen and display alternately, but I got used to it quickly,” he said. “In terms of understanding the content of movies, it was the best film I’ve watched.”
Terada frequently watches foreign movies with Japanese subtitles, and said he can now expand his range of entertainment to include Japanese films.
The Media Access Support Center, a nonprofit organization in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, which began the special services, says the number of motion pictures with subtitles directly printed on films has been on the rise in Japan thanks to efforts by major movie producing companies.
However, it said, the number of such films accounted for only 10 percent of the 488 shown at theaters in 2009, with most of them available only in urban areas for limited periods on an irregular basis.