Management of San Francisco Japantown theater changes hands

NEW PLANS FOR NEW PEOPLE — The San Francisco Film Society will take over management of the Japantown theater. Pictured is the exterior of the New People building located in San Francisco’s Japantown. photo by Daichi Ano, courtesy of New People

The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) announced on June 22 that the New People Cinema, located in San Francisco Japantown’s New People building, will become a permanent home to the film society.

The SFFS has been searching for a permanent home for its yearlong showings as well as its two-week long San Francisco International Film Festival, one of the longest-running film festivals in the Americas.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Seiji Horibuchi (New People’s founder and CEO) and all our friends at New People in this new venture,” Graham Leggat, SFFS’s outgoing executive director, said in a statement. Leggat announced his resignation on July 5 due to ongoing health issues.

Bill Proctor, publicity manager for the SFFS, commented that New People will serve as a long-sought home for the society’s screenings. It will also serve as the central hub for many of its programs, including films that once opened at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas located a block away.

“The Film Society has a standard annual lease,” Proctor said, “but we plan to stay in the theater indefinitely.” He described the lease as a “natural option as a frequent renter,” citing that the film society has shown many films at the theater and that the agreement came about organically between the two parties.

“We had been looking for a space for quite some time,” said Proctor. The SFFS had also been in talks with the Clay Theater, located north of Japantown on Fillmore Street, though negotiations had fallen through.

 

Films and Fundraisers

Horibuchi is optimistic about the relationship.

“The San Francisco Film Society has a long and established legacy in the Bay Area and the launch of San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema will help attract a new range of visitors to the venue,” he said in SFFS’s statement.

The New People Cinema, part of the New People building located at 1746 Post St., is a central part of Japantown’s pop culture center. Since its opening, the theater has screened both the latest in Japanese cinema, as well as works related to the Japanese and Asian American community in the form of community fundraisers. The theater is also a venue for the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and recently showed films for earthquake and tsunami relief for Northern Japan.

While the theater will continue to screen films from Japan, there will be a reduced number of such showings. Proctor commented that the programing will reflect the SFFS schedule.

The space, however, will be available to anyone who is interested in renting it from the film society. Proctor said that rates, along with the first few months of programming for the space, have yet to be finalized.

Meanwhile, Proctor said a greater portion of the fall season’s programming by SFFS will take place at the theater, including a short themed series of international films and locally themed films.

Onetime or special programs, such as the society’s KinoTek program — a presentation of art and visual media through autonomous computer programming — will likely be hosted at the theater in the future.

 

Changing with the Times

The location, where New People now stands, was once home to the Hokubei Mainichi — one of the final two Japanese American newspapers that were based in San Francisco’s Japantown) and Radio Mainichi.

The previous building, which was built in 1923, had served multiple purposes throughout the decades. Originally, it housed a Christian church and annex.

The Hokubei Mainichi bought and moved into the location in 1977 during Japantown’s redevelopment, according to a report from the Hokubei Mainichi. The Hokubei Mainichi, which had been in operation since 1948, sold the building to Shogakukan, Viz Media’s joint owner and one of Japan’s largest publishing houses, in August of 2005. The building was to be torn down and rebuilt as the “Japanese pop-culture center,” as Horibuchi described it.

The J-pop center, officially named New People, opened in August of 2009 and featured stores selling avant garde fashion styles popular in Japan, such as Gothic Lolita, and other unique brands. The center’s theater also screened the latest films from Japan, mostly those influenced by Japanese manga, such as “20th Century Boys” and “Detroit Metal City.”

Horibuchi, founder of Viz Media, had a long time dream of bringing live-action film and dramas to the U.S. from Japan. He helped found Viz Pictures in 2005, which rebranded itself as New People Inc. earlier this year.

 

Sundance Cinemas

Meanwhile, the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas has also faced changes. According to participants at a Japantown Merchants Association meeting held on June 9, the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas was sold by 3D Investments to private investors.

The Beverly Hill-based company had bought the theater, two hotels and two malls in San Francisco’s Japantown in 2006.

The new owners have reportedly expressed an interest in maintaining their relationship with Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, said a Sundance representative at the Merchants meeting. Sundance Cinemas Marketing Vice President Nancy Gribler reported that the new owners appeared to be invested for the long run.

 

A Center for the Arts?

San Francisco’s Japantown continues to be a center for culture and the arts. The theaters, as they change with the times, are a draw to a crowd of people who are looking outside the mainstream.

While the SFFS taking over New People Cinema may stray from the emphasis on Japanese pop-culture, the change might not be so radical from Horibuchi’s view after all.

He was quoted in 2006 as saying he was excited to hear that Sundance Cinemas had purchased the Kabuki Theatre from AMC. He was enthused by the hope that his theater and the Kabuki would make Japantown a destination for independent movie lovers from all over the Bay Area.

 

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Correction:

Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the July 7-13, 2011 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the article entitled “Management of San Francisco Japantown theater changes hands” stated the old 1746 Post St. building was over a hundred years old; the building was built in 1923. The Nichi Bei Weekly regrets the error.

Comments

  1. The Film Society Cinema opens on September 2. SFFS will announce the September slate on July 26.

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