Rooms with a View

gft_ext1There are pictures on the wall of the Glasgow Film Theatre that show it in its heyday. Bit by bit, it’s got a little more cramped. Where there was once a sweeping Deco foyer with plenty of space overhead, a false ceiling has been shoved in to make way for a bar. And now the little café on the ground floor has been gutted to make way for Screen Three.

Digital filmmaking has created an environment where less theatre-goers have to choose between more films. Where shipping a film print to a destination once involved a stack of reels the size of the average drum kit, you can now Fedex a humble hard-drive containing the main attraction. Projection rooms are getting smaller, but so is the average audience size for the ever-increasing archive of content.

Modern cinema design hence favours increasingly smaller theatres like Glasgow’s upcoming Screen Three, allowing smaller groups of fifty or sixty punters to huddle into a space that increasingly resembles someone’s living room.

I spend a lot of my time in such bespoke mini-theatres. In Soho’s movieland they call them screening rooms, because that’s what they are. And for distributors, exhibitors and reviewers, it’s perfectly fine to relax in a plush chair with a posh sound system to assess next month’s movies for review or consideration. What they miss out on, however, is that vulnerable, ineffable sense of community that one gets from being an audience member, in a crowd, in a truly big cinema. I still cherish memories of The Empire Strikes Back, Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park at the vast Empire in Leicester Square. Last October’s Scotland Loves Anime jammed hundreds of fans cheek-to-cheek to laugh and cry and gasp at a roster of films from the apocalyptic Evangelion 3.0 to the intricate Garden of Words. Do audiences miss out on something if they see such epics on a mere laptop? What about if the screen is only marginally larger than your rich mate’s telly? After all, if a giant robot is supposed to be forty feet tall, doesn’t it help the whole movie-going experience if it actually is?

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, out now from the British Film Insititute. This article first appeared in NEO # 118, 2013.

Barefoot and Ignorant

barefoot-genAnd we’re off to Matsue, an unassuming little city in Japan, where the local school board has responded to a suspicious “complaint”, and removed Keiji Nakazawa’s award-winning manga Barefoot Gen from its school libraries. This apparently, is for fear that “children would get the wrong perception about history” from reading a wartime story in which soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army are shown to be committing atrocities in China.

Wait… what?  Isn’t that precisely what the Imperial Japanese Army was doing? Isn’t that precisely the context which led, ultimately, to the tragic, murderous mission of the Enola Gay in 1945? Now children in Matsue will be able to get the “right” idea about history, which apparently involves no mention of Nanjing, Manchuria or Shanghai, and a mendacious, facetious sense of victimhood based on the notion that the Japanese minded their own business until 1945, when American bombers suddenly appeared unbidden in a surprise attack and bombed them back to the Stone Age.

But not every Japanese high school is beholden to the whims of revisionist, right-wing nutters. Caught out by the media stink, the Matsue school board hastily backpedalled in late August, revoking the order due to “procedural” issues. Close by in Hiroshima, the home town of manga creator Keiji Nakazawa and the site of much of Barefoot Gen’s heart-rending drama, the harrowing manga is actually a set book for third-years at elementary schools. This is actually a far braver decision than Matsue’s craven censorship, because one would expect Hiroshima of all places to have a free pass on hating nuclear weapons. I’m sure nobody would have been much surprised if Hiroshima schools had plumped for a more victim-oriented version of their local history, but instead, they have admirably chosen a book that spends much of its first volume depicting the Japanese at war with themselves, daring to suggest that intellectual, sensible Japanese were railroaded and oppressed by war-mongering bullies who led their nation to ruin. Unfortunately, in Matsue at least, they still seem to be.

Matsue is twinned with Dublin. Any Irish readers might want to bring this up with their Lord Mayor, in the hope that the next civic goodwill trip leads to some stern questioning about what the school board thinks “history” is.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, available now from the British Film Institute. This article first appeared in NEO #116, 2013.

Sir Run Run Shaw (1907-2014)

run-run-shawMy obituary of Sir Run Run Shaw, producer of Blade Runner, former vice-president of the Hong Kong Girl Guides, and lover of fine Chinese shirts, is up now on the Manga UK blog. Owing to family connections, I have spent an awful lot of time watching people from Shaolin punch each other, and he is at least partly responsible.