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Ueda Eigeki

The Old New Community Cinema

Down an alley off the shopping street is a building veiled in an aura unlike any other. This is Ueda Eigeki, a movie theater established over a century ago in 1917—the sixth year of the Taisho period. Having once closed under pressure from a neighboring cinema complex, Ueda Eigeki garnered help from the local filmgoers and resumed operations five years ago. Let’s take a look at the enduring charms of the community cinema.


Ueda is a city in eastern Nagano Prefecture that was once a thriving hub of sericulture. The affluent residents began going to the cinema for pleasure, and their fondness for the silver screen lives on in the community today. Also known as a city of culture, Ueda is dotted with used-bookstores and coffee shops. Ueda Eigeki is situated in the heart of the city. 

The stately solid doors, the film posters peeking through the glass display cases, and the giant faded signboard—the word “old-fashioned” was made for this place. Its predecessor was a playhouse from the Meiji period (1868–1912). The current building was completed in the Taisho period (1912–26) as Ueda Gekijo (Ueda Theater), switched to showing primarily movies in the Showa period (1926–89) and was renamed Ueda Eiga Gekijo (Ueda Movie Theater), and eventually came to be known by the present shortened form Ueda Eigeki.

Through the front doors unfolds a spectrum of nostalgic tones in the lobby walls, the geometric floor patterns, and the rows of seats. Ueda Eigeki is imbued with these special tones that it acquired over the course of time and with which it welcomes the visitors in a warm embrace.

Apart from the screen itself, the theater houses a coffee shop and a small used-bookstore. These features are a natural attraction for Ueda Eigeki’s fans and help to keep their bonds strong both in and outside the sphere of movies. The tones acquired over time blend with the new tones and create an aura unlike any other.

“Things that don’t happen at other movie theaters happen at Ueda Eigeki,” says the manager, Shumpei Nagaoka. He has stories about filmgoers requesting the titles they wanted to see, and in turn, volunteering to help out when the theater was short on staff. “The theater owes its existence to date to those many supporters. My feeling is I can’t let this place fade away, and I plan to pass on that feeling to future generations.”

Indeed, Ueda Eigeki was once forced to close its doors in 2011, and in a rare move in Japan, later made a comeback with help from the locals. As a community cinema, today it offers the movie theater as a new friendly destination for children who can’t go to school in a project called Ueda Kodomo Cinema Club, and organizes screenings targeting children up to middle school. Thanks to these activities, the theater’s regulars count an increasing number of youths.

Many residents are in love with Ueda Eigeki purely as a place. Some come for the pleasure of stepping into that special spectrum of tones and that unique aura. Others come with the hope of making new encounters. Each experience gained by way of a film is etched in the locals’ hearts as a memory of the place Ueda Eigeki.

In this day and age when films can be watched anywhere at any time, Ueda Eigeki proves itself to be a special movie theater worth the time and the trip.

Ueda Eigeki is a movie theater in Ueda City, Nagano, with over a century-long history dating back to 1917, in the Taisho period. At present, it also it aspires to offer the cinema as a setting for creating a “new sense of place.”
text | Kohei Nagasaki photography | Taira Maruta