The coronavirus crisis has shut down the Japanese film business from top to bottom, but a crowdfunding campaign has provided those who are most at risk with some relief.

While industry giant Toho, which operates the country's largest theater chain and releases the biggest domestic box-office hits, is likely to survive and eventually thrive, the same can’t be said for art houses. Known as mini-shiatā (mini-theaters) in Japan, many of them were barely making ends meet before the crisis began. Though relatively few in number compared to corporate cinemas, they are a crucial part of this country's cinematic ecosystem.

On April 13, directors Koji Fukada and Ryusuke Hamaguchi launched the crowdfunding campaign Mini-Theater Aid on the Motion Gallery website. Neither Fukada nor Hamaguchi could be considered struggling newcomers. Both have had films selected for the Cannes Film Festival — “Harmonium” and “Asako I & II,” respectively — and have won prizes and praise for their work at home. However, the pair also credit mini-theaters as vital to their careers. For many indie filmmakers like them, the Mini-Theater Aid campaign represents not just thanks for past services, but also insurance for future professional survival.