MediaMation, a maker of 4D technology, is partnering with Sony Business Solutions Corporation to try to hook Japan on movie theaters that buck, spray and mist along with the onscreen action.
The company has already brought these immersive theaters to Oxnard, Calif. and countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Oman, but it sees a big opportunity in Japan, the third largest market for film, and has tapped Sony to be their exclusive distributors in the country.
Their first installation will open this April at a branch of Toho Cinemas in Fujimi, with two more theaters set to open in Roppongi Hills and Shinjuku. Toho is Japan’s largest theater chain.
“Japanese moviegoers have indicated they like motion seats,” said Dan Jamele, the company’s vice president and chief technology officer. “It’s a good market because it’s open to new ideas.”
Domestically, 4D remains more an intriguing possibility than a phenomenon. In addition to MediaMation’s Oxnard outpost, Regal Cinemas has a 4D theater created by CJ 4DPlex at LA Live. Clearly there’s room for growth. However, overseas the theaters have become hot tickets in places like Latin America, South Korea and China.
The idea is to mix in elements of a theme park ride along with Hollywood blockbusters. Seats move, there are blasts of spray, fog fills the air at points, lights flash, and various smells emanate from the chairs themselves or around the theater. The effects are synchronized with what’s going on in the movie and are signed off on by the studios behind the films.
“We have the hashtag you can’t get this at home,” said Alison Jamele, president and chief executive officer of MediaMation. “We’re social beings and we like being around other people and enjoying the same thing at the same time. This allows you do that.”
It’s a hashtag that resonates with theater owners looking to differentiate the theatrical experience from the ones moviegoers enjoy in their homes and living rooms where digitally connected televisions that continue to improve in size and quality threaten the exhibition industry. The extra bells and whistles also allow theaters to charge more for tickets.
It’s not a roller coaster, the Jameles stress. The motion elements are only timed to key moments of on-screen action, so seats aren’t constantly getting jerked around. That’s also key, because it means that people can still buy snacks and drinks without fear of spillage. Theater owners often view movies as a means to hawk soda and popcorn, which carry capacious profit margins.
“It’s not that violent a motion,” said Dan Jamele, but he jokes, “you might want to make sure there’s a lid on your Coke.”
In the past, railings and theater walls have been outfitted with smoke machines and other elements, but those tend to be noisy. The Japanese theaters will be the first to feature chairs that have the special effects built into the arm rests, something MediaMation says improves the experience.
MediaMation got its start working with theme parks and museums like DisneyLand, LegoLand and the Clinton Presidential Libary. It’s been in the movie business since 2010 and sees an opportunity to grow the market for 4D both abroad and, eventually, stateside.
“It’s not gimmicky,” said Dan Jamele. “It augments the movie and adds an extra dimension to the experience.”