Film

'Star Wars' fans turn out in force for first showings

by Patrick St. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

A man dressed as Admiral Ackbar snapped a selfie in the lobby of the Nippon TV building early Friday afternoon.

Steps away, about a dozen people gawked at a bleep-blooping replica of R2-D2 in front of a pop-up shop devoted to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the long-awaited seventh installment in the space fantasy series that was set to open across the country later that evening.

After a year-long advertising blitz that saw characters from the series plastered on everything from airplanes to candy, fans and brands across Japan were geeking out before the first screenings began at 6:30 p.m.

At distributor Toho Cinemas Ltd.’s Roppongi theater in Tokyo, a 31-year-old man from Tochigi Prefecture dressed as Anakin Skywalker but who declined to be named, said he had been a Star Wars fan since he was a kid. He said he had been waiting for this moment for over a year since the trailer was released.

“I decided to come with this costume a week ago,” he said with a smile. “I thought I could never see another Star Wars movie in the theaters, as I thought the series ended with the previous episode.”

Tokyo resident Ami Ito, 33, showed up as a Jedi knight. She said she inherited the “Star Wars” bug from her mother, who was a fervent fan.

“I’m here to witness the historic moment,” she said, adding she was happy to be one of first to watch the new episode.

Sales expectations are high in Asia’s second-largest film market, and many wonder just how much money “The Force Awakens” will reel in.

“Of course it’s going to be a big opening, but as box office analyst Hiroo Otaka told me, it’s become very hard for any film to break the ¥10 billion ($81 million) barrier here,” said Japan Times film critic Mark Schilling.

“The core fans are lining up, but what about casual fans? They will be the key to whether it breaks the series record here or not,” he said.

A mix of the two types showed up for the grand opening of “Star Wars no Sekai,” an exhibition of props from the latest film that also features Japanese-style promotions used over the past year. Visitors to the event at the Nippon TV building in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district took photos of specially themed parade floats intended for this year’s Aomori Nebuta festival, as well as a Japanese folding panel featuring two new characters.

Older fans grew nostalgic peering at posters from the original ’70s film, “A New Hope,” but far more seemedwowed by images from the latest flick. In particular, many described the new soccer ball-shaped droid BB-8 as “cute.”

Those pushing the movie got in final promotions on Friday as well. On Thursday night, Tokyo Skytree was illuminated in a special “Star Wars” theme, while the Friday morning TV shows fixated on the opening. Nippon TV even trotted out the famous droids C-3P0 and R2-D2.

The stunts drew plenty of attention on social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, which buzzed about the film throughout the day. People showed off hand-made costumes and bento (boxed meals), while some documented quick trips to Tokyo Disneyland to ride the Star Tours attraction and buy a R2-D2 popcorn bucket before zipping back to the city.

Despite the buzz, plenty of seats were available for showings of “Star Wars.: The Force Awakens” Friday night, save for those at 6:30 p.m. One reason why, popped up on Twitter: Friday was the peak of the bonenkai (year-end party) season, and many people expressed frustration they had to attend those and couldn’t see the movie.

But Tokyoites will have plenty of chances to get in on the fun at related events during the rollout, including a costume party in the Shimokitazawa district Sunday and at Kanda “sci-fi bar” Flux over the next two days.

Staff writer Shusuke Murai also contributed to this story