Recently, I went to a Japanese movie theater for the first time. I was excited to see ‘La La Land’ and extra geeked on the Wednesday women’s discounted ticket. When I tell you I was thirsty to see this movie I am not kidding. A friend gave me a newspaper article with info on the discounted rates and the movie release date (in Japan) weeks before. All I was waiting for was for those Wednesday discount tickets to begin. Seriously, it was a good deal. I saved like $7 on the price of the ticket and regret nothing.
So anyway, I invited all the peeps that wanted to see it. Some had already seen the movie and others had plans. So that left me with another American who is actually from LA. We were both stoked.
We stopped at MaxValue (grocery store) to get snacks. Coming from the U.S., where every movie theater price gouges, don’t judge us. What we found was that the food prices at the theater in Himeji were really cheap. Lesson learned. We bought our tickets, chose our seats. Yes, I said that. They make you choose before paying. We were a few minutes late but that was ok because all we missed were the previews. And apparently, the noise warning that plays before the movie.
We laughed, out loud, at every joke! I later told a Japanese friend that it was so quiet in the theater that I could hear my hair growing. I can remember thinking “they’re busy reading. They’ll laugh soon” but no. Literally the only thing we heard, in a movie theater full of people, was us. Our own laughter, sighs, and the sound of tears rolling down our faces. No joke. Possible exaggeration. But really. If I was Catholic I would say that seeing a movie in Japan and not being able to laugh out loud is a purgatory equivalent. It reminds me of that episode of South Park where Michael Jackson is stuck on a plane that never leaves the tarmac.
My friend says that we were “shushed” multiple times but I didn’t hear them because I was busy enjoying the movie.
The kicker was that after the movie ended all the people sat there and watched the credits roll like it was their job. I understand waiting for extra clips after a new action or Marvel movie but nah. Just the credits in English. We were so excited to talk and be raucous that we speed walked out of that mug.
Now, before you start side eyeing me know that I didn’t know silence was the cultural norm. I was just as shocked by the silence as they were when my laugh turned into a snort. I asked around the day after and received varied reports. Some Japanese people said that silence was the rule. Others said that laughter was ok.
I went back to see La La Land for a second time with some of my Adult Japanese students and it was a totally different experience. I primed them by telling them that I would probably embarrass them and laugh. They replied that it was ok. They wanted to have an authentic movie experience with an American.
Can you guess what happened next?
I doubt it.
The movie was still amazing. I laughed silently, drank hot tea and ate caramel popcorn. And for the first time in my life… I almost fell asleep in a movie theater. I legit considered taking a nap. It was eerie.
Would I do it again? Yes. Why? Because, after waiting months past the U.S. release date to see movies, at the end of the day I just want to see the movie. I will laugh and cry and make all sorts of grunts of derision but I will try to tone them down. I am not Japanese and will gladly use my “gaijin” card in these situations and play obtuse.