When Yebisu Garden Place opened for business in Tokyo in 1994 you could walk through its marionette clock square, pass under a glass arch and find the best art-house theater in Tokyo — Ebisu Garden Cinema — tucked away beside a faux chateau. The debut film it screened was Robert Altman's masterpiece "Short Cuts," the first of many great films to be shown there.
The cinema closed its doors in 2011, a casualty of declining interest in independent (and foreign) cinema, and was replaced by a K-pop event theater. The best news of 2015 has been the return of Ebisu Garden Cinema to its old home, and the cinema looks to its roots this month with a documentary on Altman, whose films "Kansas City" and "Gosford Park" also played at the original EGC.
The documentary, "Altman," directed by Ron Mann, is an effective introduction to the fiercely independent American director, whose influence only seems to get bigger every year. The doc covers all the high points ("MASH," "The Player," etc.) with a good smattering of vintage interviews with Altman and insights from his wife Kathryn and many former collaborators, including Lily Tomlin, Julianne Moore and Paul Thomas Anderson. It's long on what made the director unique — collaboration, improvisation, ensemble casts, layered dialogue — but short on color, notably his temperamental side and love of the bottle.
"Nashville," Altman's sprawling look at country music and America's mid-'70s zeitgeist, will also screen from Oct. 10 to 12.
For more information, visit www.unitedcinemas.jp/yebisu.