Awakening the Force
It has to be said, that when it comes to merchandising and promotional campaigns, “The Force” is definitely strong with the Japanese.
As I sit here at my desk, my Star Wars desktop calendar sits next to my cell phone, encased in its exclusive “Star Wars” case. I’m enjoying a breakfast onigiri with new series villain Kylo Ren’s intimidating visage on the front, and in my pocket, my keys are held together by my “Boba Fett” keyring which I was fortunate enough to win in a “lucky draw” at the local convenience store.
The hype engine has kicked into hyperdrive as I sit here, a few days before the saga’s latest instalment “Episode VII: The Force Awakens is set to debut at cinemas across the country. Getting a ticket for the opening night seems increasingly unlikely, but here’s hoping I can get to see the movie during the opening weekend, before any internet trolls have the chance to spoil the plot for me!
In a previous post I looked at why Star Wars has had such an endearing and enduring appeal to Japanese fans. Today, I thought I’d go a little further into it and examine just how fans here in Japan are preparing for the new movie and how they plan to see it.
One of the new technologies to debut recently in Japanese cinemas is the concept of the “4D” theatrical experience. Whereas “3D” employs special glasses to provide a more immersive viewing experience goes a step beyond this. In addition to the 3D imaging, 4D also provides additional stimulus through the use of sensory stimulation. Smells and tactile sensations such as increased heat or water spray, coinciding with events on-screen seek to provide the ultimate in immersive experiences, by truly making you feel like you are there amongst the action.
Up until now, I have yet to experience a 4D cinema, but perhaps The Force Awakens might be a good opportunity for me to do so.
Among those leading the merchandizing charge in the build up to the new movie’s release on December 18th has been the convenience store chain 7 Eleven. In addition to their aforementioned free calendar promotion, 7 Eleven has also been offering a host of other merchandise, from ice creams, to personal hygiene products. The highlight though is undoubtedly the prize draw. Each ticket costs 620 yen, and with the chance of winning an R2 D2 nabe pot, it’s become a bit of an addiction with me!
So how about the Japanese Star Wars fans themselves. In this seemingly endless and unprecedented ocean of merchandise, how are they feeling about the movie?
It seems they are just as, if indeed perhaps a little more, excited about it than we are. One such fan, said the following: “I was only 10 when the last Star Wars movie (Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) was released. Now more than 10 years later it’s going to be fun to go back into that universe as an adult.”
On the subject of merchandising she added: “yes, even by usual Japanese standards they probably are going a bit overboard this time, certainly much more than the last time Star Wars was in cinemas. But hey, who doesn’t want a Darth Vader mouse mat or lightsaber chopsticks??”
She was however, a little less forgiving when discussing one of the Star Wars universe’s most maligned figures:
“Just so long as that god-awful Jar Jar Binks isn’t in it, unless he dies horribly at the start, I’ll be happy.”
Yes it seems that the hatred for our Gungan hero isn’t just reserved for American and European audiences!
I asked another Japanese fan what he hopes the movie itself will bring and where he expects the story to go next.
“I’m actually more interested in seeing what happens with the ‘bad guys’ next."
“At the end of Return of the Jedi (chronologically the latest episode in the story) The Emperor is dead, Darth Vader turned good again, then died and the Death Star was blown up. I wonder how the Empire is going to recover from that and still be a threat.”
Some Japanese fans are also curious as to the fate of the series mysterious hero Luke Skywalker.
Conspicuous by his absence from not only the movie previews but also almost all of the posters, advertising and other “Force Awakens” merchandise, there has been rampant fan speculation as to Luke’s current whereabouts and well-being as this new story, set some 30 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, begins.
Has he turned evil? Has he gone into hiding? Is he still alive, for one Japanese self-confessed “Luke fanatic” the speculation is all proving a bit too much.
“Oh come on!” he began, “Of course Luke is isn’t dead. There’s no way they would kill off the franchise’s biggest hero!”
Another, more outlandish theory would seem to suggest that Luke has gone bad, and is in fact the face behind the mechanized visage of Darth Vader acolyte and new “big bad” to the series, Kylo Ren. However, on set photos of Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver, minus the mask, would seem to refute this.
With the Japanese love of “cosplay” chances are we will probably see a lot of people in costume on the days when the movie premiers. Thankfully, Japan isn’t as prone to reactionary paranoia, or indeed violent crime, as the US is, so cinemas here have no problem with you coming to the cinema in your full Stormtrooper outfit if that’s your thing. However, if you are going to wear such a costume, complete with its oversized helmet then please, don’t sit in front of me in the cinema on opening weekend!
As for me, I unfortunately left it too late to secure tickets for the opening night, so I will have to make do with seeing the movie on Saturday the 19th. Going completely offline for the 18 hours or so between the movie’s release and my seeing it in theatre won’t be easy, but I am determined that no-one is going to spoil this movie for me!