Japanese Theatrical Programs

Going to the movies in Japan isn’t cheap.  The basic price is usually about 18 USD, and there’s no discount for matinees.  Add on another few bucks to watch your movie in 3D (and I always do, since I’m a sucker for 3D), and a few *more* for the luxury of an IMAX screen, and a single ticket often costs more than IMPORTING the Blu-Ray a few months later.

Refreshments aren’t so ludicrously expensive as they are in the US, though.  So that’s something.  You can also buy beer, which is, I guess, also something.

The opportunities to drop unthinkable amounts of cash don’t end with tickets, upgrades, booze, and snacks.  There are also souvenirs available for just about every movie showing at the cinema.  Toys, keychains, mobile phone accessories, and plastic folders are all pretty popular items.  But something that EVERY movie offers is the pamphlet, or souvenir program.  I started collecting these about ten years ago, on and off, mostly because they’re fascinating bits of movie history, and they’re easy to store.

For the most part, these pamphlets are about A4 (standard paper) sized.  Which means they’re easily frame-able.  Since many of them use the movie’s poster art as covers, they’re great for home/office decorations.  Inside, you’ll get cast/crew interviews, a bit of behind-the-scenes info, rather extensive photo galleries, and (more recently) an uncomfortable amount of spoilers.  Waiting for the movie to start is *not* the best time to flip through these.  Sometimes, that’s even written right on the cover (Evangelion warning)


Not all of them are the same size.  Some are smaller.  Others, are HUGE, nearly poster sized beasts.  The programs for the Matrix Trilogy are A3 sized and feature what we used to call “chrome” covers.


Some programs, like Gokusen the Movie and the  infamous Red Cross Book from the End of Evangelion, are bound sideways.  This had the added “bonus” of all-but guaranteeing that any you find at a second-hand bookstore will have their spines mangled all to hell because of how they’re shelved.  But more on that later.


To the best of my knowledge, literally EVERY movie that gets a theatrical release in Japan also gets a souvenir program.  From kids movies…


to action flicks…


to Superhero movies…


to comedies…


and they have been coming out for a very…






For a good long while, the standard price for these things was 350 yen each.  But as they’ve gotten more and more extravagant, sometimes including polybagged inserts and/or exclusive bonus DVDs, the prices have climbed significantly.  Often, they’ll cost around 1,000 yen.  Sometimes, “special edition” versions of the programs can cost as much as the movie tickets themselves.

Here’s where patience can pay off.  While an extensive selection of these programs can be found at many used book stores, there seems to be ZERO after-market for them.  With VERY few exceptions, used copies will retail for 100 yen each.  Doesn’t matter if they’re huge, 2,000 special edition pamphlets with DVD inserts, 50 year old cinematic classics, or recent releases.  100 yen each.

But here’s the rub.  To get those great prices, you’ll have to flip through often hundreds of titles.  And they are packed into their shelves than you can imagine.  At 100 yen each, they’re not exactly high-profit items for the stores, so they are not afforded prime shelf space.  With few exceptions, they’ll usually be on the bottom shelf of whichever store you’re at, so you’ll have to crouch down the whole time you’re looking.  There’s also no rhyme or reason dictating which *direction* they’re printed, so sometimes the cover will be on the left (Japanese style), other times on the right (Western style), so you’ll have to bob your head from side to side to see the title.

That minor (soul shredding) inconvenience aside, I still love these things.  They look really nice.  They make great keepsakes for some of my favorite movies.  And, they are the PERFECT gifts (omiyage) to send to my movie-loving friends back in the US.  Which is why I often buy multiple copies of the pamphlets for some of my friends’ families favorite movies.

As far as hobbies go, this one is cheap, fun, and all-but infinite.  How else to describe it but “happy hobbying”?


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