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‘Star Wars’ Film Opens in Japan

July 10, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ Brandishing light sabers, Japanese ``Star Wars″ fans welcomed the opening Saturday of the hit film in the land credited with inspiring the saga.

Hundreds lined up as early as Friday morning at select theaters for a special countdown ceremony for the arrival of ``Star Wars: Episode I _ The Phantom Menace.″

Some wore costumes of Darth Vader, Yoda and other ``Star Wars″ characters. And the crowd broke out into a cheer when the film finally began.

``The special effects are so awesome,″ said Shingo Oyama, a 19-year-old college student, lining up with a friend outside a Tokyo theater.

Like many others, Oyama has seen all three previous ``Star Wars″ films and was dead set on seeing the latest on opening day.

The film’s makers have made no secret that the work owes much to Asian influences: the kimono-like costuming, the sword-fighting scenes, the Kabukiesque makeup, and, of course, the epic fable of good vs. evil.

Director George Lucas, who came to Japan in person last month to plug the film, is an avid fan of the late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.

Some Asian-Americans have complained about stereotyping. But the Japanese haven’t minded a bit, seeming to see it all as an honor.

For months, TV shows here have featured hype on the film, sometimes showing off ``Star Wars″ products like action figures and T-shirts.

Die-hards, who couldn’t wait to see the movie, went all the way to the United States, where it opened May 19.

With such anticipation, the arrival of the film at more than 400 theaters nationwide was a jubilant affair. At the Miyukiza theater in Tokyo more than 1,000 people packed three showings.

``They were clapping from joy, shaking their light sabers,″ said theater employee Akinari Matsumoto.

But not all gave the film a thumbs-up.

``The visual effects were fantastic, but there wasn’t much content to the story,″ said Shinichiro Oka, a 31-year-old computer engineer.

``Still, seeing `Star Wars’ is an important thing to do. It was worthwhile.″