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Cinema Two

Best arthouse and independent cinemas in Tokyo

Tired of soulless multiplexes? Here are the city’s best alternative cinemas to satisfy your inner cinephile

By Mari Hiratsuka
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Arthouse cinemas in Tokyo are a thing of beauty. Away from the commercial chains you’ll find some of the loveliest, buzziest and friendliest movie houses. The films on show are often more interesting too, with retro classics, indie gems and the odd documentary offering an alternative to Hollywood’s latest CGI fest. Here are our favourite places in town, all of them guaranteed to reignite your love of a trip to the flicks.

Also see: How to watch five films for under ¥6,000

Tokyo's best arthouse cinemas

National Film Archive of Japan

Cinemas Kyobashi

Japan’s only national film organisation is dedicated to the research and preservation of homegrown and international cinema. It is located in front of Kyobashi Station, which screens mostly classic 35mm films. It also has the added draw of a fourth-floor library carrying a collection of about 46,000 film-related books and documents. Screenings are priced at ¥520 for general admission and ¥100 for primary and junior high school students. Do note that the Japanese films do not come with subtitles.

Uplink Shibuya

Cinemas Shibuya

This mini theatre in the heart of Shibuya screens a great selection of music- and art-related films and documentaries. It’s managed by the film production house and distributor Uplink, which distributes films including Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Endless Poetry’ and Xavier Dolan’s ‘Tom at the Farm’. This movie theatre also features a gallery, a market and the Tabera restaurant serving some fantastic Middle Eastern cuisine. Oh, don’t miss the weekday happy hour (3pm-7pm) where beer and wine go for ¥250.

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Yebisu Garden Cinema

Cinemas Independent Ebisu

This theatre in Yebisu Garden Place is part of an all-round art space which also hosts musicals and classical concerts. The focus here is on international films, with a spotlight on independent works. The facilities are pretty modern too, featuring both digital and 3D screens as well as fantastic seats which, unusually for a cinema in this city, offer plenty of personal space. The nearby &Cafe has all your movie snacks – popcorn, soda and even alcoholic drinks.

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Cinemas Tachikawa

It seems strange for people to trek all the way to Tachikawa to enjoy a movie on a specific screen, but Cinema Two is worth it. Part of Cinema City movie house, Cinema Two has the city’s best sound system, which is able to reproduce the most delicate sounds for an immersive audio experience. What’s more, sound engineers are on board during screenings to make minute adjustments to the sound quality. (Fun fact: they even installed an additional Meyer Sound subwoofer just for the 2015 release of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.) This cinema screens mostly epic blockbusters, but throws the odd classic or indie breakout into the mix.

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Ciné Quinto

Cinemas Shibuya

This long-established cinema has gone through quite a few reincarnations and its latest reboot, which is set to reopen on July 6, will bring it from Dogenzaka to a new location in Udagawacho. The new setup will feature two screens and about 250 seats. Let’s hope that the varied programming – which has traditionally comprised a balanced mix of edgy American, British and Japanese works – isn’t lost during the move. The film chosen for the grand reopening – the critically acclaimed French comedy ‘C’est la vie!’ by directors Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache – certainly bodes well.

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