Diving into another world through the screen

Jul 27, 2018

Diving into another world through the screen

Shinjuku Musashinokan

In a Shinjuku neighborhood that’s synonymous with modernization, it’s hard to believe that some businesses here date back a hundred years. One is Musashinokan, a cinema known for championing independent films in Japan. Its only criteria for selecting films is that the film is not made for the mass audience. “Luckily enough, we’ve been around so long that we often get distributors who bring films to us, or directors who want to show their films here,” fourth generation owner Yoshikatsu Kono told us.

On the last day of June 1920, Musashinokan opened its doors with about 600 seats thanks to volunteers who worked in the neighborhood. Films by Kiyomatsu Hosoyama and Dell Henderson were the very first films screened in Musashinokan. Even after the present building was built in 1968 by Mr. Kono’s grandfather Giichi, cinema was a very special place for people at that time. Cinema served as a portal for discovering new worlds and it allowed you to walk in someone else’s shoes. Today, Musashinokan remains a place “to dive into another world” even outside the screening room. The bathroom mirrors are surrounded with light bulbs to make customers feel like an actor preparing for a shoot or a show. The smoking room is lit with a spotlight to make it feel retro and moody as if you are starring in an old detective film.

“On the second floor of the theatre my grandfather designed rows of two-seater chairs and named them ‘Romance Chairs’, because he imagined cinema would be a place where couples would date, which was a novel idea at the time.” Romance Chair is said to have influenced the “Romance Car” train line that heads from Shinjuku to Hakone.

“We’re rooted in the Shinjuku neighborhood, because we’ve helped it transform into one of the busiest and most vibrant areas of Tokyo especially after World War II. We were one of the first major businesses here.” When Giichi succeeded the business, WWII ended and Shinjuku was full of black markets. Shinjuku was a confusing yet vibrant city.

Giichi’s vision was to develop Shinjuku through the cultivation of arts and culture. It is fair to say it was greatly achieved. The notion of open-mindedness and respecting diversity was inculcated from the very beginning. Such philosophy is reflected in its unique lineup of movies. “We want people from all walks of life to visit and discover. We’re not bound to one perspective or one target audience.”

Musashinokan is not just a cinema, but a place for people to go on a journey. Whether it is discovering new films by travelling there or travelling to new places by watching films, Musashinokan will always be there in Shinjuku to provide a place for everyone to continuously uncover something new.