|| Mewtwo Strikes Back!
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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Mewtwo Strikes Back!
The Jimbocho Theater, a small one-screen theater in the Jimbocho area of Tokyo, held a special film festival in late July 2021 / early August 2021 entitled "I Wanna See it on the Big Screen Again! Movies from Summer Vacations Past" (もう一度スクリーンで観たい―あの時代の夏休み映画). During this event, which spanned several weeks, twelve classic Japanese summer blockbusters were shown on the big screen for the first time in decades. One of those twelve films just happened to be Pocket Monsters The Movie "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" & "Pikachu's Summer Vacation."
I went to the July 31st showing of the first Pokémon movie and so I'd like to recount my experience for you here.
The event was first revealed to the public by the theater's official Twitter account on June 30th, 2021.
Later that day the theater's Twitter account confirmed that "Pikachu's Summer Vacation" would be shown together along with "Mewtwo Strikes Back!"
Around July 7th or so, the show's flyer was made public that revealed the the festival has a newly updated title, "I Wanna See it on the Big Screen Again! Movies from Summer Vacations Past." Details about the event were also added to the theater's official website.
The screening schedule for Pocket Monsters The Movie "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" & "Pikachu's Summer Vacation," as posted on the theater's website, was as follows:
The runtime listed on the site was 65 minutes for Mewtwo Strikes Back! and 23 minutes for Pikachu's Summer Vacation. That shorter runtime for the main feature, combined with the fact that the website was stating that each of the films it'll be showing will be projected from 35 mm film originals, heavily implied that what was going to be shown is the original theatrical version of the film and not the special edition of the movie known as The Kanzenban.
Tickets were 1,300 yen for general admission, 1,110 yen for senior citizens, and 900 yen for students. You could
not reserve tickets in advance; you had to go to the theater and buy tickets on the day of the showing you wanted to attend.
So before I go into the actual event itself I feel like I've got to address my serious reservations about even going to this thing in the first place. The prospect of seeing the original theatrical version of "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" is incredibly tempting, and when I did the math I discovered that if I attended one of these showings then that would make Pocket Monsters The Movie "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" & "Pikachu's Summer Vacation" the fifteenth Pocket Monsters film I've ever had the pleasure of seeing in Japanese theaters. Going to this thing seems like a no-brainer, right?
But also, Tokyo's COVID-19 numbers have been absolutely horrific these last couple of weeks. New records are being broken pretty much every single day, and there doesn't really seem to be any centralized strategy to get us out of the mess we're in right now. It's also one of the major reasons we didn't get Movie 24 this summer, probably. I could write pages and pages and pages about how effed up things are in Japan right now but, long story short, the COVID-19 situation here has never been worse.
And yet I still went to this event. What made me feel safe enough to even go in the first place is the fact that 1) I'm fully vaccinated, and 2) the theater made it very clear that they were taking steps toward making each viewing as safe as possible. So I double masked it up and took my chances. It's been two weeks since the showing and my health seems to be perfectly fine so it all worked out in the end, I suppose. But there was still this cloud of dread lingering over the whole event that I just couldn't shake the entire time I was there.
I arrived at the theater at around 12:20 pm or so. The venue's a small theater run by Shogakukan, a name you should hopefully recognize from pretty much all the Pocket Monsters home video releases and books / magazines released in Japan. The theater's official Twitter mentions that the very first film they ever screened at this theater was actually another Pocket Monsters movie (2007's Pocket Monsters The Movie Diamond & Pearl "Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai") so Pokémon films have a special place in the hearts of the staff who works here.
Once inside I was a bit shocked (but also, as someone who takes COVID-19 very seriously, somewhat relieved) to see that were no lines whatsoever. I was in and out within two minutes. My ticket had a ticket number of 19, and I would later find out that this number corresponded to the order in which I was to be seated.
No one else was really in the lobby at the time so I was able to get some rather nice photos of the decorations the theater had put up for the event. Apparently some of these items had been kept in storage ever since the aforementioned Movie 10 showing and so there was a neat (but also kind of strange) mix of new and old here.
I had about 45 minutes to kill at this point so I left the theater, got lunch, and made sure to be back at around 1:00 pm. Quite a few more people were in the lobby at this point. A member of the theater staff was by the entrance to the theater's single screen, telling everyone to get their tickets ready because he was about to start calling out the ticket numbers one by one. Before long, he started to do just that. "Ticket Number 1...Number 1...OK, Ticket Number 2...Number 2...Ticket Number 3...Number 3..." When my number was called I walked over, handed over my ticket stub, and descended the stairs to the theater below.
According to the theater's website the Jimbocho Theater is able to seat up to 99 people. Thanks to COVID-19, however, the number of people they're allowing to actually attend their showings has been reduced to 48. There were no assigned seats (a rarity in Japanese theaters) but tape was placed across every other seat to prevent two people from sitting side by side. As I chose my seat -- toward the back and right in the center -- the song Pika Pika-massai-chu could be heard playing over the theater's stereo system.
As I waited for the show to start I had a look around. I'd say everyone in the audience was at least in their 20s or 30s, maybe. I didn't see a single child in the whole crowd. It makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose; this is a limited time niche showing of a nearly 25 year old film, after all.
Once 1:15 pm came around, it was time for the show to begin. The theater's curtains opened up about three fourths of the way, enough for a 4:3 image to be projected, and then the show began.
The first thing we were shown was a commercial for the very first Pokémon Stadium game, the one with only 42 Pokémon in it that never left Japan. Pocket Monsters The Movie "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" & "Pikachu's Summer Vacation" came out July 18th, 1998 while Pokémon Stadium came out August 1st, 1998, so I guess it makes sense that an ad for the Nintendo 64 game would've been shown along with the first movie.
I'm guessing the commercial we saw was an exclusive to theatrical showings of this first Pokémon movie because I can't seem to find it uploaded anywhere online. The ad was set up like one of those post-episode Dr. Ookido's Pokémon Lecture segments where Mr. Unshou Ishizuka tells us about how amazing it is to be able to play with your favorite Pokémon on your TV. The commercial also even featured some brand new animation I had never seen before: there was this kind of bird's eye view shot of Dr. Ookido pointing forward as his lab coat billowed in the wind that stands out to me.
After the brief commercial airs we go straight into Pikachu's Summer Vacation.
I'm not going to bother reviewing this film or the main feature because, well, literally every single one of you reading this has seen the first movie a million times by now. So I'll just talk about the presentation of this particular showing instead. I obviously can't share screenshots from a film projection I saw in theaters so I'll have to let my words do all the talking.
Simply put, this film's never looked better. The short's already exceptional line work was crisp and sharp, and since this was a 35 mm film being projected on a theater screen we didn't have to deal with any of that film grain removal that Blu-ray authors like to overdo for some reason. And then there's the colors. The 2012 Blu-ray release -- the only high definition release of the film to date -- is fine, I guess, but the film print is definitely the better version. The colors were bright, but not too bright, and the color balance we're presented with seems to be as close to the way the colors are supposed to look as we're ever going to get.
The sound was a little off at first (Satoshi's first line in the episode sounded like it was delivered from inside a trash can) but it righted itself soon after.
When Pikachu's Summer Vacation was released on Blu-ray in 2012 there were a number of new edits made to this first Pikachu short. These include slowing down certain scenes (the Kamonegi transition scene being the most obvious) and recoloring Rougela's face from black to purple in the ending theme. Thankfully, none of these edits were present in the version projected at the Jimbocho Theater. The Pikachu film was, presumably, presented exactly the way it was shown back in 1998.
After the Pikachu short ended, the curtains opened up the rest of the way to allow for the following film's full 16:3 image to be projected.
"Mewtwo Strikes Back!" starts and I am happy to report that the version they showed was indeed the original theatrical version! For those of you who don't know, there's a "special edition" of the first movie called "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" The Kanzenban that was created the year after the film was released in Japan in preparation for the movie's upcoming international debut. It's the version all of you have seen. The two major differences between the original theatrical version and the Kanzenban is that 1) the Kanzenban has a ten-minute animated adaptation of The Birth of Mewtwo radio drama added to the beginning of the film, and 2) the Kanzenban replaces a lot of the hand-drawn animation from the theatrical run with newly redrawn scenes and/or CG animation. I actually posted side-by-side comparisons between the two versions to show off the extent of the latter quite a few years ago; click here for more info.
The theatrical version was only ever released on home video twice in 1999 -- once on VHS, and once on LaserDisc -- before the Kanzenban swooped in and essentially became the version of the movie. It's more or less the Pokémon equivalent of the Star Wars Special Editions. As far as I know every single home video release, TV broadcast, theatrical re-release, or online stream of the first film since the late 1990s has been of the Kanzenban.
That would, therefore, make the showings at the Jimbocho Theater the first time this version of the film has been made available to the public since 1999.
The highest quality version that you can get your hands on of the original theatrical version, as of this writing, is the LaserDisc release,. The 35 mm version I saw in the theater that day absolutely blows that out of the water. The same compliments I heaped upon the "Pikachu's Summer Vacation" presentation apply here as well; the line work was great, and the color balance was pretty much perfect. The crystal clear image on the huge theater screen opened my eyes to certain little animation details I had never noticed before, which is kind of amazing when you consider how many times I've rewatched this movie over the past 25 years or so.
The sound mix was also above average. The sound we heard in the theater was an analog recording, and thanks to this higher fidelity there were certain tiny little sound effects that I could enjoy this time around that I had just never noticed before. It does make sense. Up until now I'd always been relying on my TVs' or computers' built-in speakers to deliver this film's audio, and while those do the job fine they're absolutely nothing compared to watching it with a theater's surround sound system.
When the movie ended, there was a "teaser" for the second movie that was basically a wall of text that said something to the effect of "It's been confirmed that Pocket Monsters The Movie II is under production" (劇場版ポケットモンスターパートII制作決定). The presentation ended, the house lights went up, and everyone made their way out of the theater.
I wasn't in Japan in the summer of 1998 but going to this "I Wanna See it on the Big Screen Again! Movies from Summer Vacations Past" showing made me feel like I absolutely was.
Shogakukan is the company that owns and operates the Jimbocho Theater. They also happen to be one of the companies behind the Pokémon films' home releases. In other words, we know for a fact that the powers that be have a copy of a 35 mm print of the original theatrical version of the film that they could easily scan and release on Blu-ray anytime they wanted. Do we dare to get our hopes up that we'll ever see a high definition re-release of this sometime in the future...? The film's 25th anniversary is coming up very soon, after all, giving them the perfect excuse to do just that.
I'm crossing my fingers that this happens because I think everyone should get a chance to see the original version of the first movie in as high a quality as possible.
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