Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Star Wars' Opens in Japan, Where Luke & Co. Are like Old Friends

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Star Wars' Opens in Japan, Where Luke & Co. Are like Old Friends

Article excerpt

Koichi Hirakawa saw "Star Wars" 20 years ago, and the Force has pretty much stayed with him: These days his Tokyo shop sells about $43,000 worth of "Star Wars" memorabilia a month. Starting this week, the Force is bound to get even closer.

Twentieth Century Fox released its "Special Edition" of the movie in Japanese theaters on Saturday, and the other two films in George Lucas's famous trilogy will open here in July.

Mr. Hirakawa mainly deals in "action figures" - mostly Chinese-made, plastic representations of characters in the series. "They go so fast," he says, standing amid boxes of Darth Vaders, Luke Skywalkers, and C-3P0s. An energetic man wearing a T-shirt and baggy black shorts, he can barely find time to eat his lunch as he fields questions, answers his cell phone, and wraps up purchases for customers. Hype for the release of "Star Wars" hasn't been suffocating, but Twentieth Century Fox has spent at least $6 million on advertising and millions more in promotional tie-ins with other companies. Critics are predicting that the re-release will do well here. The movies won't have stiff competition from any other sci-fi action movies, and they may well strike the same appreciative chord that the originals did. "New audiences will accept the Special Edition as a completely new film," says film critic Atsuo Minowa. "A big hit is a must." "Star Wars" was a breakthrough movie in Japan the first time around. Along with "Jaws," it signaled the start of Hollywood's domination of Japan's movie market, says Mark Schil- ling, a film writer and author. Nowadays, there is no contest: In 1995, six American movies outgrossed the top-earning Japanese film. Even "Waterworld," a notorious flop in the United States, did better than the 1995 "Godzilla" movie did on its own turf. "Star Wars" prospered here for some of the same reasons that viewers in other countries liked it. Japanese fans were awed by the special effects and Mr. Lucas's renditions of spaceships. The morally unambiguous "good guys versus bad guys" simplicity of the story also drew crowds. " 'Star Wars' is very clear and easy to understand, and the story is somehow classic," Hirakawa says. …

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