Watching movies in Japan

Why movies in Japan are so late

AKA: Why do movies in Japan take so fucking long to come out?

Among its expats, Japan is notorious for being shit at movies. Seeing movies in Japan is like standing behind a deaf man at a fast food restaurant who’s being served by an “immigrant”. By the time your turn finally rolls around, you aren’t even hungry any more.

The problem

It takes a really, really long time for movies to come out in Japan. Here are a few examples:

Gods of Egypt:

Country               Release date                  
USA 24 February 2016
Australia 25 February 2016
Lithuania 26 February 2016
Japan  9 September 2016


Country Release date                     
Taiwan 9 February 2016
USA 12 February 2016
Fucking Romania 12 February 2016
Japan 1 June 2016

About time: (haha geddit?)

Country               Release date                  
UK 4 September 2013
Australia 17 October 2013
Uruguay 21 November 2013
Japan 27 September 2014*


You get the idea. Look up the release dates for any movie on IMDB and you will see Japan at the very, very bottom of the list.

This is incredibly frustrating for avid movie-goers. But why does this have to happen?

The reason

It’s not because of the language barrier – other countries pump out subtitles for a same-day release. It’s also none of the reasons detailed in this (Japanese) post, which claims that it’s because they need to market the movie carefully (I’ve never seen a billboard for a movie over here) and because release timing is important in Japan and because of dwindling cinema-going numbers, almost as if Japan is the only country in the world with these problems.

No, the real reason is this:

Basically, it’s because no-one pirates stuff.

Japanese people are extremely obedient of the law (also, piracy is really really illegal, oh and bad as well) but it’s not just that. No-one here actually knows how to watch pirated stuff, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to understand it because they don’t speak English. (OK, so the article does make a brief mention of this, but hopefully you don’t speak Japanese so we can ignore that.)

Because no-one is pirating anything here, Japan is the only place the movie studios can keep doing business like they did in the old days before the internet – staggering releases all over the world so as to drag out the period over which they bring in profits. They can cut their losses quickly if they realize everyone hates their movie, or they can focus more energy on each individual market.

They can’t really do that anymore, because the day after the premiere someone will have uploaded it to the internet. And if it’s already on the internet, no-one is going to wait six months for it to finally reach their country.

Except for Japan. They will wait. Partly because of the lack of piracy. Partly because they are so cut off from the rest of the world through language and culture that the hype never actually reaches them. And the result is that you get every movie spoiled for you on English Twitter before you’ve even seen the trailer for it.

The solution

Now that you have understood the why, let’s move on to the how. You have a few options here.

1. Streaming services like Netflix that aren’t as sophisticated as Netflix + a VPN

Netflix used to work great with a VPN – you could switch it to any country you liked, log in to Netflix and away you went. Not anymore. Netflix has upped its VPN game, and now blocks any traffic coming from outside its borders.

Don’t get me wrong, Netflix does exist in Japan. It’s just… shit. They don’t even have House of Cards (like, what? I thought they made House of Cards??) You’re better off using one of the alternatives, hopping on a VPN and bypassing their sub-par geoblocking systems and wasting your day binge-watching Star Wars like that instead.

2. Piracy

Alright, this one is not even ambiguous. Japan has some of the strictest anti-piracy laws in the world, which makes sense, it being the home of Sony etc.

While you aren’t likely to get punished for downloading movies((I said unlikely! Don’t sue me if you do!)), the ISPs are super cooperative with the police and will stop your internet the moment they detect P2P traffic. If you’re uploading movies, that’s a different story. Actually the story I just linked to was targeting downloaders as well but, er… be warned!

So, don’t pirate stuff here. If you do, use a VPN. Or don’t, and go to jail. Or do, and still go to jail. I don’t know. Try one of the other methods.

3. Go to the cinema

…in about six to twelve months’ time when the movie is actually out. Pay US$20~$30 for one ticket. Sit in a theater full of people who don’t understand what’s going on or why the jokes are funny because the Japanese subtitles are wrong. (Seriously, most of the Hollywood subtitles are done by this one woman, Natsuko Toda, who produces the most consistently terrible subtitles. Somehow she has guessed her way through hundreds of movies to earn the title of “subtitle queen” in Japan, by claiming to know what the Japanese audience wants to hear and that that is more important than what is actually being said. /rant)

Watching movies in Japan is a comfortable, but frustrating experience.
Watching movies in Japan is a comfortable, but frustrating experience.

OK, to be honest, Japanese movie theaters themselves are actually quite good, if you ignore the fact that they are in a time warp six months behind everyone else. There are usually a couple of days every month during which the tickets are half price (kind of like Domino’s Pizza… if you can afford to make it half price, aren’t you charging a bit too much normally?). The facilities are usually really really nice and clean and new, you can buy alcohol and it’s designated seating. Just a pity about the time warp.

4. Go to the video sto… hahaha I can’t I just can’t

Blockbuster Video may have died long ago, but don’t worry! Its Japanese counterpart Tsutaya is still alive and well (1,461 stores!!). DVDs still rule the market in Japan, and the streaming industry isn’t exactly taking off, despite everyone’s incredibly fast internet.

Remember 20 years ago, when you’d hop in your car and drive to the video store, browse the aisles for half an hour before choosing a couple of weeklys, paying a few bucks and driving home to watch them? And then having to come back again a week later to return them? And if you didn’t you’d be slapped with late fees until you did? Well, get ready for a nostalgia trip, because you can still do that over here! Renting movies in Japan is extremely common and you will find Tsutayas by every other station. There will be gory horror films, endless shelves of Korean dramas, and porn. Lots of porn. (These categories alone apparently make up more than 35% of the consumption of movies in Japan.)

Movies in Japan are procured at this ancient institution
Movies in Japan are procured at this ancient institution

Tsutaya basically rules the post-cinema movie world in Japan, and they do not want to give up their kingdom to some fancy new “streaming” technology. That isn’t going to change anytime soon, so you’d better get used to it.

I mean, it’s not expensive or anything, but god damn is it inconvenient.

5. Take a trip to Korea every once in a while

They actually screen movies at the same time as the rest of the world. Crazy, right?

Sure, the return trip will cost you US$100~$200, but you get to enjoy some nice Korean food and pretty plastic girls while you’re there.

6. Leave Japan forever

This is probably the most foolproof solution. Sure, it isn’t a way to “see movies in Japan,” but surely you’ve given up at this point.

Moving to a more sane country such as Australia, Germany, or Afghanistan (this may not be accurate) will help you immensely in seeing movies before the rest of the world spoils them for you.

Wrapping up

Holy fuck I want to see Suicide Squad already.