Asakusa Meigaza: Tokyo's warts-and-all movie experience

Asakusa Meigaza: Tokyo's warts-and-all movie experience

The working-class bawdiness of Tokyo's old Asakusa district can still be found at this grindhouse theater
Asakusa Meigaza
Asakuza Meigaza: where you get so much more than just a film

Movie going in Tokyo isn’t what it used to be. Soulless multiplexes have replaced palatial single-screen theaters. The films, when they aren’t Hollywood imports, are mostly glorified made-for-TV movies starring familiar faces from the small screen.

And yet in Tokyo’s Asakusa ward, the cinematic march of time has all but ceased. Ghostly images of tattooed gangsters, samurai slashers and misfit drifters from another era emerge daily from the 35mm projector. The triple-bill is still king. And the rowdy patrons are invariably on the edge of their seats with excitement, or about to black out from a cheap sake-induced stupor.

Welcome to the Asakusa Meigaza: Tokyo’s very own exploitation movie grindhouse.

Asakusa MeigazaThe simple ticketing machine shows the appropriate prices for... children?Located on Asakusa’s Rokku strip, the Meigaza can be found in a hub of still-operating post-war cinemas. The fare on its five screens ranges from fleapit porno, ancient Hollywood movies like "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop" to classic Japanese comedies and dramas.

Outside, a steady stream of nostalgic old men peruse vintage posters for violent yakuza movie classics like the "Battles Without Honor and Humanity" films (1973-79), blood-soaked swordplay epics like "Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx" (1972) and tall tales of loutish drifters like "Truck Bastards" (1975-79). Such fare is now widely available on home video around the globe, but a trip to the Meigaza offers an authentic warts-and-all Japanese movie-going experience, not just a chance to view the film.

Purchase your ticket at the vending machine outside (children receive discounts!), and venture down the staircase into the bowels of the theater below. The first thing to hit you inside the medium-sized auditorium will be the smell: decades of tobacco abuse (the "no smoking" signs are merely for decoration), body odor and whatever food and drink the old timers have snuck in combine to provide an ambiance befitting the rough and ready subject matter. 

Then kick back and enjoy the films, and the Meigaza itself, in all its rough-hewn glory. But be prepared to have the show periodically interrupted by a chorus of grunts, groans and the occasional rude body function.

This isn’t the multiplex, you know.

Asakusa Meigaza: Asakusa 2-9-12, Taito-ku, tel. 03 3841 3028, www.e-asakusa.net/meigaza

Patrick Macias is the author of "TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion." His blog, An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla, can be found at www.patrickmacias.blogs.com.
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