In preparation for the much-anticipated worldwide release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Toho Cinemas Ltd. has tripled its so-called 4D motion effects theaters to nine stretching from Tokyo, Yokohama, Kawasaki and Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, to Nanba in Osaka.
The theaters use specially engineered seats to add physical and sensory sensations to the 3-D movie-watching experience. Like an amusement park ride, the seats move in sync with the action and produce wind, mist, smells, vibrations and other effects to fool moviegoers into feeling they are experiencing the film, rather than just watching it.
Such gimmicks are well-suited for Hollywood blockbusters like “Star Wars,” said Toho Cinemas marketing official Yoshito Hiramatsu.
The 4D technology debuted in three theaters in Tokyo and Saitama in June. One of the jazzed-up movies, “Jurassic World,” produced a box office draw of more than ¥100 million in just over 100 days from a single screen in Toho’s towering new Godzilla theater in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district.
As of Friday afternoon, all tickets for the latest “Star Wars” movie at Toho’s 4D theater in Roppongi Hills were sold out — including the 3:45 a.m. show on Saturday.
In preparation for the seventh installment in the beloved space fantasy saga, United Cinemas, which has 336 screens in Japan, more than doubled its 4D theaters to 11 from four for what spokesman Masayuki Suzuki called the “biggest sales competition of the year.”
“Because ways to enjoy movies have diversified (with the Internet). . . We are contemplating how to offer a special experience people can enjoy only at theaters,” Suzuki said. “I believe these cinemas are best suited for that purpose” as they can actually let people experience the movie, he said.
There are two 4D technologies common in Japan. MX4D, which is used at Toho Cinemas, has 11 different effects, while 4DX, used at United Cinemas and some others, has nine effects.
But some old fans gathered in Toho Cinemas’ theater in Roppongi said they prefer to watch the episode in 2-D for the first time, while also showing interest in the next-generation movie technology.
Kiyokazu Takahashi, a 45-year-old man who has been a fan of the Star Wars series over thirty years, said he prefers to watch in 2-D at first, because “I feel it is more classic and original.”
Another 24-year-old Star Wars fan of twenty years, Hisaki Kanno, from Tokyo, said he too would watch the 2-D version for the first time, because the special effects “may prevent me from focusing on the story.
“But I’m also interested in new excitement brought by the 4D technology,” he said, adding he will watch the same movie again in 4D later.