Toyo Cinema

Rainier Avenue S. and S. Orcas Street,
Seattle, WA 98118

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Previous Names: Hillman City Theater

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I cannot remember what the Toyo Theatre was called in the 1960’s when it was a blackspoitation theater, but in the 1970’s it was run by a member of the White River Buddhist Church, a small, tidy, well-run venue for Japanese films. It could not compete with the history of the Kokusai Theater in the heart of the International District, as that theater had been showing films since the silent era. Plus Toyo Cinema was a bit out of the way far down S. Rainier Avenue.

But while the Kokusai Theater toward the end of its existence almost exclusively recycled mostly older films, Toyo Cinema mixed many brand new releases with the older films, and it was the only place to see the new Tora-san movies as they were being issued (Tora-san was in the Guiness Book of Records for the longest running film series). For new films it was always a sell-out night but for old films the audiences would be tiny.

Eventually the theater closed due to dwindling crowds, and even in Japan their cinema was in serious decline with major studios producing mainly television product, and eventually the Toyo Cinema gave up. But for a decade it was culturally significant in the Japanese community per se, and for Seattle generally.

Contributed by Paghat

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

nickvroman on April 4, 2006 at 4:19 pm

I spent many an hour at the Toyo in the 70s.
But, I’m doing a little research today. We’re thinking of doing a little program here at NW Film Forum on Japanese cinemas in Seattle. Do you have any more info on the Toyo – particularly in regard to the owner? Thanks, NV

spazmo on May 23, 2017 at 11:10 pm

The Toyo Cinema was located further south than this photo indicates… it was located in what was called Hillman City (just south of Columbia City) just north of the intersection of Rainier Ave South and South Orcas Street.

My parents frequented the theater to watch Japanese movies in the 60s. They also attended the Kokusai Theater in the (now) Chinatown/International District.

Being the youngest of 5 children, I was always in tow — and would laugh 5 seconds after everyone else, because I was the only one reading the subtitles…

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