Otaku USA Magazine
Secrets of the Otaku-Verse II

Hey, this is Patrick here to drop a little more info for those interested about the nuts-and-bolts behind the making of the newest episode of my web series OTAKU-VERSE ZERO.

This episode—number five for those of you counting—is set inside the legendary Tokyo grindhouse movie theater known as the Asakusa Meigaza. It was an absolute blast to film and something of a dream come true.


“GIMMIE DAT!” Mr. Suzuki proudly displays a vintage poster
for a Furyo Bancho biker movie from the 1960s.

I’d first gone to the theater about 7 years ago with my pal, illustrator Happy Ujihashi, who drew the cover and interior art for my 2001 book TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion. Happy and I were then mourning the recent closure of the Shinjuku Showakan; a much-loved triple bill theater where Happy worked and where we first met. After the last picture at the Showakan played, I wondered where could I find the same mix of classic genre movies (usually yakuza and samurai fare), rowdy audiences, and a general vibe that time had stopped around 1975 or thereabouts.

Happy assured me there was still one place in Tokyo that would fit the bill, and so, with a plastic bag full of Yeibisu tall boys, we made for the Asakusa Meigaza. The theater immediately struck me as being old, run down. It smelled like a combination of old people, feet, and a soggy ashtray. It was love at first sight and then—after a screening of a wild Truck Yaro movie from the ‘70s and a Yagyu Jubei ninja epic from the ‘50s—it was love cemented for all eternity.


Film print shipping containers displaying the Toei Studios delta brand: a symbol of quality assurance.

So when we started work on Otaku-Verse Zero, the director asked me to make a list of locations we should try to film at, it didn’t take long for me to mention the Asakusa Meigaza. But how to get access? I figured Happy’s roots in the Tokyo grindhouse mafia ran deep, so I asked him if he could help connect us to the men upstairs. Sure enough, we soon had the Meigaza’s general manager Kazuyoshi Suzuki on the horn, granting all-access permission and telling us to come on down with cameras in tow.

As I allude to in the show itself, shooting in Asakusa is like shooting in a war zone. Even in the early morning hours, which is when we began taping this segment, a non-stop parade of drunks and old-timers will cause havoc of one kind or another: drifting into the frame, asking the camera guy “hey, what’s going on”, and just generally keeping things “ real interesting”.  By the time we were doing the on-camera interview segments with Mr. Suzuki, the theater had opened for business and the punters were plunking down their hard-earned yen for a ticket to see yet another Tora-san movie. We must have tried to get that shot with the snack bar lady half a dozen times as someone wobbled in front of us or gave her a ticket stub to tear in half. But it was worth it just to hear her say “ampan” in that voice which is the voice of the theater itself as far as I’m concerned.


The hard-working snack bar lady in-between dishing out anpan bread and Ritz crackers to hungry film-goers.

Getting to see the projection booth and the storage space for the movie posters nearly made my eyeballs pop out of my head with joy. In between takes, I ran amok with my camera taking a bunch of pictures to capture the memory. We only show off two movie posters in this episode, but we shot a LOT more including the unveiling of a few saucy Toei Pinky Violence titles and Bunta Sugawara stunners. There were stacks and stacks and stacks of posters crammed into that space and I literally could have spent the rest of my time in Tokyo just flipping through all of them. Alas, we had to make way for the nearby Asakusa Sensoji Temple to shoot the footage for episode four (seen here).

And so ended the siege of the Meigaza for Otaku-Verse Zero, but the experience now joins the short list of other unforgettable moments I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing inside the theater:

Good morning Asakusa! Men line the streets looking
for trouble to cause at the Meigaza theater.

– Old guy loudly and proudly breaking wind during a quiet part in the movie.

– A senior citizen sucking on an ice cream cone wearing shorts and flip-flops, looking for all the world like a six-year-old going on sixty.

– Poopy footprints trailing out of the bathroom stall, like the Invisible Man in bad need of Pepto-Bismol.

See you next week!

Patrick Macias is the editor in chief of Otaku USA magazine. His blog can be found online at www.patrickmacias.blogs.com

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