• From Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring

“The Japanese film audience still behaves much as it does at the theater,” wrote Donald Richie in his A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. “Members . . . rarely leave the theater during the projection and often remain seated until all the credits have been viewed and the lights go up. For whatever reason, the film is watched in silence, in marked contrast to film-viewing habits elsewhere, but much in keeping with Western theater-going behavior.”

I came across this passage last week while preparing a blog post about Yasujiro Ozu; it made me recall my own impressions of going to the movies in Japan. I attended both a multiplex and a cinematheque when I visited Kyoto in 2006, and I found in each the respectful sort of environment Richie describes. I didn’t hear anyone so much as move his feet—whenever someone sneezed or coughed, he quickly muffled the sound, as he might in a symphonic hall. The air of propriety was so thick I could sense it even before the show began. Not only did theaters advertise when the movies started, they listed the precise minute at which they began seating. (It was never a round number, as I recall, but something like 5:07 or 9:01.) Spectators would line up single file in front of the screening room, getting themselves properly becalmed for the occasion.