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Movie Credit Boredom in Japan

Ridgeline Transmission 168



When I started Ridgeline some many many years ago (4.5-ish), the plan was to cap each post at about 300 words. I was cribbing from Sam Anderson’s “New Sentences” column that had a similar rule. Obviously, I didn’t stick to that rule. But the reason for that cap was to make weekly-consistency non-negotiable. As in, you can always bang out 300 words, you fool. So in honor of all that, a shorter one.

Here’s a social / cultural phenomenon I’ve been meaning to make public note of for some time: The post-movie silence in a Japanese theater.

As a kid, the most boring hour of the week — by far — was church. We’d go. I’d feel as if I were being waterboarded in the pew. Skull-numbing boredom. Crawling-outta-my-skin kinda boredom. Counting ceiling tiles. Listening to terribly un-charismatic priests. I prayed only for the money basket to come around so I’d have something to do. I don’t think anyone in my family was having fun either — we’d usually leave at communion, which I guess was an acceptable exit strategy? Seems strange now to think back on that, on not being able to hang for another ten minutes. And, anyway, isn’t the real point of something like church the post-mental-hairshirt chatty bonhomie? I realize now, my family was fastidiously asocial! Regardless, this was my bizarre, perhaps not-uncommon experience as a child — the Great Boredom of Church.

Back to the movies: When a movie ends in Japan, a miraculous, truly miraculous, almost otherworldly thing happens — nobody moves. The credits roll. The lights stay off. Nary a smartphone light can be seen. I went to MI:7 (FUN) last week and the IMAX theater was packed. The movie ended, the credits began and I looked and looked — I was seated in the back row with a view of pretty much every seat. Hundreds of people. Nothing. No shifting. No peeking at messages. No rushing back to scrolling. And the credits were long! These were not quick credits. And yet, we all sat in spectacular shared boredom.

To be clear: I’ve been watching this for twenty-three years since moving to Japan in 2000. Hundreds of films. Hundreds of credit rolls. You may think: Ah, but back in 2002 we didn’t have iPhone! And no, we didn’t, but we had iMode and DoCoMo news and you could update your Mixi account from your phone. So the pull has always been there.

I’m always moved by this. I suppose we should revere (or at least sit before) the cascade of humans responsible for producing two or three hours of entertainment. It’s a wild proposition — the amount of work a movie takes, the amount of person-hours to produce such a dense nugget of escapism. And so to sit, together, bored, staring at that scrolling wall of text, bearing witness to inscrutable language many in the audience can’t decipher (“grips” etc), just letting those shapes wash over our eyes, not placating the little imp inside our minds screaming for another hit of dopamine … well, it almost makes you feel like it’s all going to work out.

But mostly it reminds me of church. A little kid, squeezed between adults, wanting to move but not being able to. It’s rare today to have these moments of disconnected, shared boredom. And so I wonder: Do moviegoers in other countries also sit through credits like sensible adults capable of controlling their impulses and urges? In the US, as soon as the first nib of white credit text appears, the lights blaze, deals are being done on headsets, stocks traded, folks running, yelling, popcorn flying, Toks being Tik’d, flys unzipping en route to the toilet, sweetJesusgetusoutofhere.

This “cultivation of attention” is something I’ve written about at length. And it’s something you get in droves on a long solo walk. The rhythm of the steps, the endless days, the disconnection — I find these extended bouts of “boredom” raise my mind into a kinder, more empathetic place. One less hungry for whatever’s next. And so when the credits scroll and I’m not “allowed” to get up, I go back to that place, the place I’ve found on the road (and wish I knew about as a kid), and focus my attention on all those names, those roles, those locations. Marvel at the goofy economic and social miracle that is a Hollywood blockbuster.

Anyway, it’s a surprising thing to experience — this shared bit of “pain” at the end of a movie in Japan. I often wonder how much longer it’ll continue.

The lights eventually do come on and we rise slowly, finally pulling our phones from our pockets. Oh, we’ve earned this! Eyes rolling back in our skulls. Overcome by all those delicious messages and news blips waiting to suck our minds far, far away from wherever it is we may be.



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(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)