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The little Japanese cinema that could

In the coastal town of Zushi, three friends helped spark the city's cultural transformation.

Screenings on the beach during Zushi’s annual film festival.

The power of a cultural institution shouldn't be judged by its size alone. Because if that were the criterion, Cinema Amigo wouldn't stand a chance. Sitting one street away from the beach in Zushi, a surfers' city an hour's train ride from Tokyo, this cinema is as small as they come. Camouflaged among the homes of this residential neighborhood (aside from a metal sign on the building's side), the screening room can host a maximum of 20 viewers. It's what cinemagoers would call a boutique experience, yet, in this seaside town, it's a space that punches above its weight in bringing the community together.

This friendly spirit is what inspired founders Gen Nagashima, Rai Shizuno and Eisuke Deguchi to set up 10 years ago. A musician, photographer and interior designer, respectively, the trio first met at the now-defunct bar-cum-venue Solaya, a 20-minute drive down the coast in Hayama. All of them helped in the running of that music-oriented space and witnessed how it attracted artists, creatives and curious onlookers. When, eventually, the bar had to close down, the group of newfound friends weren't ready to forsake a cultural gathering point -- so they decided to open one of their own. "That's when we got the idea for a cinema," says Nagashima, sat in Cinema Amigo's office, the sound of the afternoon screening downstairs audible through the floor. "We realized there was no cinema in the area."

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