‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’ returns to screens in Japan

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    By Chris Gallagher

    TOKYO – The chariots of 1959 epic “Ben Hur” and the yellow brick road of 1939 fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” are back on the big screen in Japan as cinemas begin reopening from the coronavirus crisis with a slate heavy on Hollywood classics.

    James Dean starrer “East of Eden” (1955), crime drama “Bonnie and Clyde” (1969) and disaster film “The Towering Inferno” (1974) are among other titles playing, after Japanese chain Toho Cinemas reopened 10 of its 66 theatres in areas deemed relatively safe from the coronavirus.

    The unit of Toho Co, which also runs a film studio, is preparing to reopen cinemas in Japan’s 39 prefectures where the government has lifted its state of emergency, a company official said on Tuesday.

    “We’re making arrangements … We can’t say yet when they’ll reopen,” the official said.

    Cinemas in Tokyo remain shut.

    Toho Cinemas, which had closed all of its theatres as of April 18, has implemented safety measures including keeping every other seat empty and making staff and customers wear masks.

    Reopening theaters leads to another challenge, however: what films to show after movie studios delayed new releases because of the pandemic?

    Toho’s reopened theaters mostly offer a mix of old Hollywood, recent Japanese hits and holdovers like Oscar-winning “Parasite” that were in cinemas before the closures, although that mix varied between theatres, its website showed.

    Its Sendai cinema in northern Japan on Tuesday was screening the American classics mentioned as well as neo-noir sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” (1982), prison drama “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) and several Japanese films including “Shin Godzilla” (2016).

    Its Sun Street Hamakita theater in central Japan’s Shizuoka skewed more towards local films headlined by multiple screenings of Makoto Shinkai’s animation megahit “Your Name” (2016) and his follow-up “Weathering With You” (2019).

    But Sun Street Hamakita was also showing Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), romantic drama “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) and musical “West Side Story” (1961).

    Western “Rio Bravo” (1959), starring John Wayne, was also playing in some theaters.

    Asked about the selection of films on show, the Toho official simply said: “We’re playing films that are popular.”

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