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A downloaded question

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By Chris Betros

A man in Sendai was arrested recently for making the U.S. film "Wanted" available on the Internet to users of the file-sharing software Winny before its official release in Japan. It’s one of the few cases I can recall of someone actually being arrested for such an offense. At the root of it, of course, is the movie industry’s attempt to clamp down on piracy or unauthorized copying of their films. Whenever you go to see a movie in Japan, they always show an ad asking people not to view pirated or illegally downloaded copies. “Save our movies” is the mantra.

However, the studios and cinema chains are facing a big challenge from file-sharing and digital downloading technology. It is not a battle they can win in an era of Internet-delivered movies and video on demand (VOD). Online movie download services from iTunes, Amazon and others give consumers a choice of building their own HD library of movies. But you don’t have to wait for a movie to complete its theatrical run; digital downloads can be obtained (illegally) of movies not even in cinemas or before they are released on DVD by the studios.

Some movie distributors go to great lengths to protect their products. I’ve been to movie premieres in Japan where audiences are subjected to body searches at the door, and while the movie is screening, security personnel with night vision goggles patrol the aisles looking for anyone making an illegal copy.

What does all this mean for the future of the motion picture industry? For one thing, the movie-going experience will change radically … which is too bad for people of my generation and older. I have many fond memories of cinemas. But going to a theater today is a vastly different experience from my youth.

Recently, a friend and I went to see "The Dark Knight" one evening. First, we had to wait in a long line. Then when we got in, we couldn’t get an aisle seat because they were all taken. Once the film started, for the first 20 minutes, we were juggling our Big Macs and drinks, trying not to make a mess. Also, that night, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people coughing and clearing their throats. At the end of the movie, we wanted to leave quickly but were stuck in the middle because everyone else in the row decided to sit through the credits (which took seven minutes). It was not a very enjoyable experience.

I contrast that with going to the movies when I was a kid growing up in Australia. Those were the days of double features. Can you imagine a movie theater today showing a double feature? Saturday afternoon at the movies was always fun. Being a bit mischievous, I used to get a kick out of rolling Jaffas (chocolate balls coated with orange candy) down the aisles.

By high school, the action on the screen took a back seat to action in the seats with cuddling and necking (what a quaint expression) – pausing only when the usher came along with his flashlight. Does anyone kiss and cuddle today when they go on a date to see a movie? Of course, the exception was movies like "Ben-Hur" -- everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the chariot race. The smooth guys used this time in their lives to hone their skills for when they could get their driving license and make out at the drive-ins. Alas, what happened to drive-ins?

The advent of home videos took a lot of fun and anticipation out of going to the movie son a Saturday night. You'd hear the buzz and read about upcoming movies for weeks ahead of their release. If you didn't go to the cinema, it would be a couple of years before it would be shown on TV.

The challenge for studios and cinemas is how to keep people coming to theaters. They will need to radically alter their way of doing business. I'm less inclined to go to the cinema nowadays. For one thing, there is too much crap coming out of Hollywood. Second, there is very little original. We’ve seen it all before. Look at this year’s big releases -- how many were sequels? Third, movies come out in the States sometimes up to six months before they are released in Japan (giving rise to cases like the one in Sendai). Fourth, admission is too high. Who wants to pay 1,800 yen or 2,000 yen for a mediocre movie? Fifth, Japanese cinema chains need to offer more late-night shows. Most working people cannot make it to the 7 p.m. screening in time, and if they do, they have the problem of juggling their fast food I described above.

Beyond all that, though, is the technological challenge. In Japan, with its high-speed broadband and unlimited downloads, you can download virtually anything you want, be it music or movies. In the U.S., the issue has an interesting history. Congress granted movies copyright protection in 1912. In the 1970s, the movie industry tried to stop people from copying films on video recorders. But consumers won a victory in 1984 when the U.S. Supreme Court exempted video home recording from copyright infringement.

The stakes are high. A motion picture industry report in the U.S. last year estimated that internet users download 350,000 movies every day. I think studios stop fighting the Internet and embrace it by collecting royalties as part of the Internet connection fee. They also need to realize that consumers want to receive their content in different ways, and cater to that. Some will still want to see a movie on the big screen, while others will want to digitally download the movie so they can watch it when, where and how they wish.

It won't be too long before movies are made primarily for home entertainment, especially as more households get large-screen TVs. Controversial U.S. director Michael Moore released his latest film, "Slacker Uprising," for free on the Internet last month, and broke download records during its first 24 hours on the web, according to Hypernia Hosting Corp.

For now, the studios are ahead in the battle. Digitally downloading is still a cumbersome process and user unfriendly. Download times are long and the picture quality is sub-par. But one day, the technology will be as simple as popping a disc into a player. Then the only battle will be for the remote control at home.

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

38 Comments
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When movies cost 1800 yen (3,500 yen for premier, and 1200 yen for a late show) and you have no choice of where you sit (unless you pay more), and are 3 months later than the US, what do you expect. When service increases and the cost of going to the movies become affordable, as it was 30 years ago, file sharing will disappear. But, until then people, especially here in Japan, are going to continue to download and watch movies free. Heck at the rental video shop they sell blank DVD's to copy your movies when you go home. The movie industry just doesn't get it. Provide a good movie, (which lately seems like everything coming out of Hollywood is junk) at an affordable price, then we the customers will start to listen to your campaigns. Otherwise, use your brains and find a way to make movies more affordable for all and provide them in a timely manner.

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"Second, there is very little original." - Original take on the English language here! I'm impressed that a bloke old enough to have seen Ben Hur at the flicks is still going the see action films today, and even has something to say about the digital revolution. Nice one gramps.

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"Once the film started, for the first 20 minutes, we were juggling our Big Macs and drinks, trying not to make a mess." That's not the cinema's fault. Maybe the big macs were just a bit too big for you. Maybe try a cheeseburger next time. Everytime I have been to the cinema, I have chosen where I want to sit without paying any extra. Don't know if this depends on the cinema but if you have to pay to choose, why would you go to that particular cinema? What is stopping you walking out during the credits? That is your decision to stay there. Again, can't blame the cinema for that. One thing that can be said is that they are ridiculously overpriced in whatever country.

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we were juggling our Big Macs and drinks, trying not to make a mess. Also, that night, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people coughing and clearing their throats.

Perhaps they were choking on the stench from Chris' 'meal'.

stop fighting the Internet and embrace it by collecting royalties as part of the Internet connection fee

You mean we should all give the movie industry a hand-out whether we want to watch their merchandise or not? No thanks.

I think the last time I went to the cinema was when I took the kiddies to see a Doraemon film. Why sit in a hard, uncomfortable seat, surrounded by coughers, sneezers and the stench of Mac, when I can enjoy a DVD in the comfort of my own home, feet up on a nice cozy sofa, at a time of my choosing, not when the cinema manager says I should be ready to start watching?

While I also enjoyed going to matinees as a kid and sitting in the back row with a bag of crisps and a boyfriend as a teenager, times have changed and the film-makers/distributors need to change with them.

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With the current technology available, movie theatres are a pretty silly idea.

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More and more people will download anything that is free, it is human nature. I and many i know have downloaded films and later bought them because of viewing a download.

People are fed up withrip off movie theaters especially in Japan. In other countries they have concession for seniors. My father can watch latest movies for approx 500 Yen in Britain for Afternoon special viewings for seniors.

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If you eat McDonalds when you go to the movies I'd say you are irreversibly addicted to american pop culture. Downloading movies instead of going for the 'blockbuster' experience to be, uh, enjoyed at a Japanese cinema could be hazardous to your mental health.

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With the current technology available, movie theatres are a pretty silly idea.

Not if you want to see a movie before all your friends tell you the plot!

And there is a difference between the tech being available and being able to afford it. What is more, I can play blu-rays at home, but the selection of blu-rays I can rent is limited.

I would not discount two hours of included air-conditioning either.

One last thing: girls like to go out and be seen, even if its just walking in and out of the movie theater. There are cheaper ways to date, but a movie is not that harsh. I recommend a love story. --Cirroc

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It's not bad as it sounds. First of all, TOHO has discounts such as ladies day, couples day and men's day. They also have a point card system. Everytime you go to the movies you get some additional points. And if you save up those points you can watch movies for free. I pay 1000 yen for 1 movie on Friday's. Because Friday's is men's day. Usually Wednesay's is women's day. After that I walk around and go see other movies. Usually I watch 2 movies for the price of 1000 yen. Have you ever seen a movie in IMAX form ? Some movies do not look good in DVD form. Alot of the screenshots are cut out or made smaller. Don't go to Roppongi Toho !!! That place is over charges.

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Your movie complaint was you had to juggle McDonalds and wait for other people? It's not the movies that have changed it's your body shape.

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I agree with the writer that the movie-going experience isn't as much fun as it used to be. It's not even an enjoyable way to have a date like it used to be.

I used to think that some movies were meant to be seen on the big screen, but now that I have a 50-inch TV, that's big enough for me. I watched "The Ten Commandments" the other night and it was every bit as spectacular in my darkened livingroom as it was when I saw it at a cinema centuries ago.

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hard decision:

I can stay at home and watch on the big screen at my leisure.

Or

Act like the movie conglomerates have complete control over me (Goto theatre)

The movie companies need to step-up their game. I suspect movie revenues are down mainly because you can get most movies <$10 some even $5 and 95% of movies are on DVD in a few months anyway =people just wait until it's on DVD and the geeks download it illegally before the DVD even comes out (why wait at all)

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And on top of all that people had to put up with the stink of a big mac because of some inconsiderate git.

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I think when you fork out 1800yen for an experience you'd usually pay about half for, you hold an expectation that it'll be as good or better but the reality is not...to that I say, welcome to Japan Chris!

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“Save our movies” is the mantra.

Save your movies to the C-drive is my mantra.

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Recently, a friend and I went to see “The Dark Knight” one evening.

First, we had to wait in a long line. Then when we got in, we couldn’t get an aisle seat because they were all taken. Once the film started, for the first 20 minutes, we were juggling our Big Macs and drinks, trying not to make a mess. Also, that night, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people coughing and clearing their throats. At the end of the movie, we wanted to leave quickly but were stuck in the middle because everyone else in the row decided to sit through the credits (which took seven minutes). It was not a very enjoyable experience.

So stay home and pirate stuff. But don't rationalize it by saying you don't like going to movies.

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What really changed my mind about pirating is when I tried to open files that I had ripped from a CD that I had purchased legitimately (The Zombies: Begin Here). The copy protection kicked in and I was asked to go through some rigamarole to prove that my copy was legitimate. No thanks. Then my i-Tunes would play pirated music but not legitimate rips of CDs I had purchased. No thanks.

Since then, it's been shiver me timbers, avast ye matey, and no looking back.

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Alinsky4prez We don't eat MAC at Movies. Popcorn and a Coke. That is American culture at it's finest, and maybe a hot dog.

memyselfI You are stealing a second movie? Japanese people do this? Stealing a movie and downloading it are the same thing. As for TOHO, their service is terrible. Ordered a coke with no ice and they gave me a 1/2 cup full of coke. They said, no ice, that's why it is half full. Also those "movies you get some additional points" comment is only for 6 months at a time. Don't go to the movies 6 times in 6 months and you don't get your points. No MEN's day! Their homepage doesn't list it. What are you talking about.

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by the time american movies play in japan you can order them from the internet, and there are streaming sites

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my wife likes going to cinema, so you go sometimes. actually I've ben to "Dark Night", there have been about 20 customers. bought the beer from combini, popcorn from them, so everybody was happy. So if you want a cozy, not crowded theater, go to Mediage in Odaiba.

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"Recently, a friend and I went to see “The Dark Knight” one evening. First, we had to wait in a long line. Then when we got in, we couldn’t get an aisle seat because they were all taken. Once the film started, for the first 20 minutes, we were juggling our Big Macs and drinks, trying not to make a mess. Also, that night, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people coughing and clearing their throats. " ...yeah and a couple of noisy people trying to have dinner during the movie

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So what's the "downloaded question"? At first I thought this article was about the man who was arrested only to find out it was a nostalgic trip down movie lane.

Yup, things change...sometimes better, sometimes not. The thing about change is that you only remember what was good about yesteryear and not what was bad. Sure, I remember going to the cheap movie matinees as a kid for only 50 cents and heading out to the drive-ins where there was at least one car that had someone sneak in by riding in the trunk or hiding low in the back seat.

They usually even had a playground just under the big screen so that parents could bring their children to play before the movie started. It was also sad when I heard that the last drive in theatre was taken down many years back, but I also seem to remember that no one ever really went anymore. It just wasn't profitable. Up went all the multi-plex theatres which could cram more people into a smaller area, thus driving up the profits.

As for the "good ol' days" in the movie theatre? Um, yea, I do remember them being $5 dollars, but don't forget the bad things. First, I lived in a smaller town (not a city) so maybe I can't compare, but there was only ONE movie per week. You had maybe two or three chances to see it. Yes, it played all week, but as a kid, I had to be in school and of course wasn't allowed out on weekdays. I had to go on weekends like every other kid so it was super crowded. As for the seats, they were small and usually in quite bad shape. Oh, did I mention that there was only ONE movie...so no choice on what to see. Yup, popcorn and pop were usually all over the floor and some people would never shut up!! (oh...wait that was me).

Nowadays, the theatres are usually in much better shape and the seats are way more comfortable. Also, they are set up much better so you can see in front of you even if the guy in front is kind of big. I don't know how many times I had to almost stand when I was younger just to see over some tall guy's head. (the seats were not really raised properly).

Yes, the cost is 1800 yen, but I almost NEVER go during the expensive times. In fact, it's much more convenient for me to go to the late show which is less expensive. Anywhere from 1000 to 1200 yen. With smaller crowds it really works out for me. When you take in the cost of inflation, it's way cheaper than when I was younger!

So, yes, I can download movies if I want to. I even have a large screen to watch them on, but you can't really beat going to the theatres to watch movies in my opinion. Nice to get out, maybe go to a coffee shop afterwards to sit and chat with your friends.

I think movie theatres are much better than way back then, but sadly, I have to agree that they will probably come to an end sooner or later if they can't find ways to survive in today's techno world of internet.

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Cleo - "Perhaps they were choking on the stench from Chris' 'meal'."

Har!

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But going to a theater today is a vastly different experience from my youth

as I imagine are most other things. used to be all fields....

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"We were juggling our Big Macs and drinks"

I'm sure you got some nice tips from appreciative members of the audience, Chris! Hee Hee!

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Hmmm let me see, Tom Hanks gets $20,000,000 for a movie and you charge me ¥1800 to see it......Now tom`s salary V mine.

Yes I see how hard it is for Tom and other highly paid actors.

If the price was more reasonable, and does Tom really need 20million a movie, I might just come back.

Hey Movie industry I`m the hand that use to feed you, which is now biting you.

Oh on the next movie if toms not free, I am and Ill do it for 10million I`m sure I could retire on that.

cuddles

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Change is inevitable, and technological progress has fundamentally changed the viewer landscape. The movie (and music) distribution industry needs to adapt like everyone else, but instead they attempt to protect their outmoded business models through influencing legislation and attacking their customers. It doesn't have to be this way, as Apple and iTunes have shown.

Cinemas can be fun, but they have to adapt to the change in viewer profiles and distribution methods. With digital film-making, digital distribution, and digital projection becoming common, there's no reason a movie can't be distributed near instantaneously around the world to cinemas. Artificial delays lead to much of the problem.

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Since when do movie theaters permit customers to bring in outside food like McDonalds? Every movie theater I've been to in Japan has clearly stated that consuming food and drinks that aren't purchased on the premises are prohibited. Even if it's not stated it should be common sense. Good thing you weren't sitting next to me Chris, because I guarantee you you wouldn't have finished that Big Mac...

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I think the real piracy is when Japanese movie companies delay movie premiers. Iron Man was in the US back in May. Japan got it in September. Anybody care to explain why Japanese viewers need to cash out 1800 yen on old movie?

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"Anyone care to explain why Japanese viewers need to cash out 1800 yen on an old movie?"

It's a cultural thing.

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I don't know about Big Macs but I went to a cinema in Yurakucho on the weekend and everyone in my row (including me) was eating or drinking something for the first 20 minutes of the movie. You could hear food being unwrapped, gurgling as straws reached the bottom of the drink cup, and so on. I very rarely go the cinema anymore so it was an eye-opener for me. Some of the foods sold at the concession stands looked quite unpalatable.

I'd be happy if movies are made directly for home entertainment.

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smartacus - That's the main reason why I haven't been to a movie theatre in 10 years.

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Where do you people live?? Tokyo? is movie going really that bad in Tokyo? It sounds like watching sa movie in in an uncouth western theatre.

In Kansai watching movies is a pleasure, I only ever go on special days or late shows 1000 or 1200 yen. All the theatres were I live (Toho and movix)have allocated seating, so you can choose where you sit everytime. Most people dont eat food or if the do, they do it quietly. I myself never buy the extremely overpriced theatre food anyway, it seems to be overpriced like that in most countries as the snack bar is where theatres make most of the profits. Who goes to a movie to eat anyway? There is dead silence from the audience in the theatre for the whole movie, you can truly relax. It seems people still have some manners down here. At the end of the movie, leave - if somesome is sitting on the aisle say sumimasen and quickly walk past, all the theatres around here have ample legroom/passing room to do so.

I love going to movies here (well where I live anyway) it`s a great place to escape.

Reading this gives me another reason to be glad I dont live in Tokyo.

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p.s First, we had to wait in a long line

buy your tix online and avoid the long lines at the theatre, there has been some embracing of the internet in the movie world.

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Part of the reason for the high movie prices is that theaters don't get nearly as much income from junk food sales as in the US. I heard this from a cinema owner. For this reason, I don't feel too bad about bringing dinner to the theater, although I try to stop short of inflicting MacDonalds odors on my fellow moviegoers, except in the case of horror movies, in which case it adds to the ambiance.

And there is no reason to pay full price for a movie in Japan EVER, as they're are an amazing number of discounts:

men's day ladies day first showing discount last showing discount mae-uriken Seicomart advance ticket (here in Hokkaido)

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Smartecus - "I'd be happy if movies are made directly for home entertainment."

I simply plug my index finger into my computer port, download movies directly into my brain, then watch them while I'm typing comments on JT :-)

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the cineplex near here serves very good draft beer and hotdogs, no need to take a McD inside though there is no rule prohibiting it, only food that "doesn't smoke" so leave the yakki-nikku hot plate at home

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In kind of wish this wasn't a commentary. Because I can't understand how someone gets arrested for sharing a movie on the internet. Yes, it's copyright infringement. But I don't understand how it became criminal copyright infringement. Did money change hands?

I'm sorry that the movie going experience is bad. But that's the way businesses work. If you don't like the service, don't go back. The real story here is how the US is pressuring countries like Japan to adopt draconian laws that even they wouldn't accept. It used to be that copyright was strictly a civil affair. Now the police are getting involved because someone uploaded a file.

Something needs to change, and it isn't the seating policy in the theaters.

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