Japan’s cinema world is now undergoing its greatest transformation since the introduction of “talkie” and color films. It has been learned recently that 10 major cinema complex firms, which cover some 70 percent of the roughly 3,300 movie screens in Japan, are expected to complete the introduction of digital projection equipment by the summer of 2013 at the latest. Digitization of movie production, distribution and showing is inevitable. But people in the movie world should consider what problems digitization may have.
Digitization has been accelerated by the adoption of a unified digital format in 2005 by Hollywood movie companies. The strong point of digitization is the cheaper cost of production and distribution. Printing many films for use at movie theaters will become unnecessary and piracy can be prevented. Production of three-dimensional images will become easy.
But it will cost about ¥10 million per screen to install equipment such as digital servers and projectors. This will cause financial difficulty for independent movie houses in the countryside. At a symposium held in Tokyo in late June whose participants included owners of independent movie theaters, a financial plan was announced in which major movie distributing firms will shoulder two-thirds of movie theaters’ digitization cost.
But it is not certain whether this plan will be available for movie theaters in the countryside, which show movies a few weeks after their debuts in Tokyo. Many countryside independent movie houses have annual sales of less than ¥20 million.
The completion of digitization may drive some of these cinemas out of business. According to the Community Cinema Center, an association of independent movie theaters, including minitheaters, Hollywood is expected to halt the distribution of movies in film in one or two years.
Digitization may also give rise to problems involving the long-term preservation of movies. It is possible to restore films with minor degrees of deterioration or damage to their former condition. But it is not known how long digital data mediums will last. In addition, there is also a view that digital images lack the depth of their film counterparts.
If film projectors disappear from movie theaters, it will become impossible to show movies that exist only in film format. In a May 2012 survey by the Community Cinema Center, 63 of the 138 movie theaters — or 46 percent — that replied said that they have introduced digital equipment. An encouraging sign is that 116 of them — or 84 percent — said that they will keep 35 mm film projectors to be able to show movies preserved only in film. Public discussions should be held on improving the preservation of old films, including greater use of public funds for that purpose.