'Star Wars': Japanese Theater Toho Scrambles

To ensure that moviegoers can experience every duck and weave as the Millennium Falcon hurtles through space, Japanese cinema chain Toho has expanded its number of 4D cinemas in time for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens'” debut this week.

The company has partnered with U.S.-based MediaMation to add eight theater installations across Japan that range from 72-seat to 112-seat configurations. Toho and MediaMation have already collaborated on four previous installations.

“We’re moving at a record pace,” said Dan Jamele, MediaMation chief technology officer and vice president. “They wanted to be sure we were ready for ‘Star Wars.'”

The new Toho Cinemas venues scheduled to debut include Nishinomiya OS, LaLaport Funabashi, Namba, LaLaport Yokohama, Utsunomiya, Konan, Kawasaki and Nijo. Seven of the eight will be open in time for “The Force Awakens'” debut.

4D has yet to be fully embraced in the U.S., but the theatrical experiences are very popular overseas. The theaters have specially designed seating that moves along with the on-screen action. Some theaters are also outfitted to simulate water, fog, wind, air, lightning, scents and vibrations.

To create the effects, MediaMation’s team of programmers spends roughly two weeks on a film like “Star Wars,” figuring out how the theaters will mimic the light saber battles and space chases taking place. They then present their design to the studio behind a film for sign-off, before uploading the program to the network of theaters.

MediaMation has already brought these immersive theaters to Oxnard, Calif. and countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Oman. In Japan, it has tapped Sony to be their exclusive distributors in the country. For theater chains, the appeal is obvious. In Japan, exhibitors like Toho can change $10 extra for 4D tickets.

“It adds to the experience in such a tangible way that customers don’t mind paying more,” said Jamele. “The biggest complaint they get is that there are too many sell outs and people can’t get a ticket.”

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