Set back from one of Takada’s main streets, Honcho-dori, you will find the “Takada Sekai-kan”, one of Joetsu’s hidden treasures. It is one of Japan’s oldest running movie theaters with a history going back to 1911. It shows a broad range of Japanese and foreign movies. “Sekaikan” translates into “outlook on, or appearance of the world”. Whether the theater indeed has an impact on Takada’s view of the world we can only guess.
You will find its movie schedule at http://takadasekaikan.com/schedule
Read no further if you just want to enjoy a movie. But please do if you are interested in an important piece of Takada heritage and movie history in Japan.
The 2 storied building has a beautiful wooden ceiling, it seats about 200 and has a projection room, used to preserve projection related skills although actual projection is using digital technology. The ambience invites you to dress up in your best 1950s clothes and take your girlfriend out for a movie and dinner. The building is registered as a national Tangible Cultural Property (2009) as well as a Modern Industrial Heritage site (2011, by METI).
The building was designed by Takahiro Noguchi, one of the early Western style architects in Meiji Japan. Takada based architect Yuko Seki, an expert on historical buildings, machiya and gangi advises Sekai-kan’s owners on structural and design matters.
The Nikkatsu Corporation, one of Japan’s major film makers, in its struggle against television had turned to the soft porn genre to give its sales a boost. The Takada theater, owned by Kumagai Kogyo but operating under the name Takada Nikkatsu was an important distribution channel for Nikkatsu.
In 2009, ownership and responsibility for management were transferred from Kumagai to a newly established NPO, the Machinaka Movie Theater Revitalization Committee. The initiative for establishing this NPO came from Kuniaki Kishida, a local businessman.
The NPO restored the original name, “Sekai-kan”, made the U-turn from adult movies back to organizing events and showing commercial movies and then gradually changed its activities into a repertory theater, showing older Japanese and foreign movies not normally available in commercial theaters.
Sekai-kan at present is one of about 120 “mini theaters” in Japan, seating 200 or less people and mainly showing independent films. The theater is managed by one permanent staff (Mr. Ueno) and part-timers. It is equipped with Dolby Surround, a 35mm film projector and a DLP projector.
Although its main activity is showing movies, the Sekai-kan has also been used as a filming location. It was used for instance for filming of the 2012 Japanese movie “Signal” (see: https://asianwiki.com/Signal_(Japanese_Movie)
Necessary maintenance and repairs including measures to keep the building safe in case of earthquakes are funded by donations, including a one-time city government subsidy.
Construction of the building was completed in November 1911 and the theater opened under the name Takada-za. In 1916 the theater became a permanent movie theater.
The building was right in the center of Takada having as its neighbours Ushimaru Shokudo, Ryokan Takadakan, Takada City Hall, Takada police station, Takada Hotel and many other Western-style buildings. None, except Sekai-kan exist any longer.
We can no longer reconstruct when exactly the name Sekai-kan was introduced but it was in any case already in use in 1925 according to “The Japanese Film Yearbook of that year ( Taisho 14).
Around 1940, it was renamed Takata Toho Movie Theater. In 1942, all cinemas in Japan were brought under government control. After the war, SCAP assisted in the formation of the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE), as distribution channel in Japan for the US Motion Picture Export Association.
In 1947 Sekai-kan was renamed Takada Central Cinema, showing mainly American movies distributed by the CMPE. After the American occupation ended, and distribution was resumed by the major Japanese movies companies, Sekai-kan continued first under the name Takada Shochiku-kan, then became Takada Movie Theater and finally assumed the name Takada Nikkatsu in 1975.
At that time, the building was owned and managed by local company Kumagai Kogyo. Nikkatsu had already entered the adult movie business and used Takada Nikkatsu for its distribution. Somewhat embarrassing to have an adult theater smack in the middle of Takada and many citizens felt relieved when the business was taken over in 2009 by the NPO Machinaka Movie Theater Revitalization Committee, pursuing more conventional movie business.
Takada Sekai-kan has its work cut out for it. In Joetsu, the Sekai-kan competes with an 8 screen J-MAX theater. Moreover, according to the statistics, the population of Niigata prefecture saw in 2018 on average 1.1 movie per person / per year. That is well below the average for the country at about 1.4 and this suggests there is scope for pulling more people into the movie theater from Joetsu’s ubiquitous pachinko parlours and karaoke shops.
Joetsumyoko station is less than a two hours’ Hokuriku shinkansen ride from Tokyo, making a one day visit to Joetsu, combining lunch in one of Takada’s machiya restaurants with a movie and a walk in Takada Park entirely feasible.