Culture Course: Japan + Star Wars
For May the 4th Be With You, I thought I'd write my first culture piece on Japan while including Star Wars! I wanted to see if there was any huge following there in Japan, or did it not fair well? Was it a huge part of their pop culture like it is in America? Were there any references to any part of Japanese culture in the movie themselves? I wanted to find a link between Japan and Star Wars!
So upon my journey, I realized I had seen a few small Star Wars references in anime personally. From the early 90s, I remember having a poster of the Tenchi Muyo characters as the various corresponding characters of Star Wars! Even recently in the anime opening for Princess Jellyfish, they referenced different movies with Star Wars being the first one shown! I also have seen dialogue, jokes, and comparisons made to characters in anime about Star Wars. So I had to wonder how far this went in Japanese culture.
Well, The Force Awakens itself, the most recent movie in the saga didn't fare as well there as it did in the United States and the United Kingdom. It only made #2 on opening weekend with anime movie YoKai Watch coming in first! The Force Awakens didn't get into the number one spot until its third week in theaters! However, it was the highest grossing movie since Frozen overall and was the highest grossing live action film since Alice in Wonderland! And that says a lot about their taste in movies, but it seems it's just not the type of movie that brings in the huge following.
While doing my research for this post, I also came to find that George Lucas took many ideas from older Japanese samurai films. Especially a movie called "The Hidden Fortress." Akira Kurosawa directed it, and many of his movies inspired George Lucas but "The Hidden Fortress" some say has shot for shot scene similarities. At first, I thought people we were stretching for similarities. Once I started reading and elaborating it made more and more sense. From simply the robes the Jedi's wore, reminiscent of kimonos and samurai robes. Then all the way to the complex idea of the Force stemming from Bushido code, essentially the way of the Samurai. Even the ideas behind the Sith come from the more individualized idea of a rogue, solo samurai called Ronin. Darth Vader's armor itself was based on the same style that samurai warlords donned in battle.
Even anime such as Gundam Wing, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato and other anime and manga contributed to the more space drama theme in the movies. Character designs, weapon systems and developed relationships between the characters were all taken from the dramatic and unique themes in manga and anime. Which might be why in the States and other countries who weren't familiar with the Japanese style storytelling enjoyed the fresh, new idea that Star Wars brought to cinema. Apparently, in the first couple screenings of "A New Hope" in Japan, the audiences were silent, which at the time, the producers thought it wouldn't fair well there, not knowing that as a culture they are remarkably quiet during movies!
Now, Star Wars is still quite popular in Japan, most mostly due to the adorable kawaii characters (BB-8, R2D2, Ewoks and yes, in Japan they do enjoy Jar Jar Binks), and then subsequently the tie fighters and X-wing space battles bring in the action reminiscent of space battle anime. Merchandising does very well here, despite having small numbers at the box office. And I mean low numbers as in, it's never done as well as it does in America! When I first went to Tokyo, I didn't notice a lot of Star Wars merchandise personally, but I hope my trip next year will be different in that regard with the new saga beginning! I'm excited to see if Star Wars will become even more familiar! Celeste (our cosplay contributor) will be happy when we go to Tokyo next year!
May The 4th Be With You! And watch out for the Revenge of The 5th!!
(Sources: Forbes.com, Wikipedia.com, Kotaku.com)