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The Force is Awakening

Marie Yanaka

Japan and much of planet Earth was awakened recently by the force field known as Star Wars. The latest episode began showing in theaters on December 18th, but the story is making its presence known in many other forms.

Star Wars began in 1977. The latest installment, the seventh in the series, is expected to be one of the biggest blockbuster movies in history, depicting a new struggle between light and dark.

Kansai International Airport is the gateway to western Japan. Welcoming sightseers from around the world is a train decorated in the style of Darth Vader. The makeover was timed to coincide with the release of the new movie. And the trip to and from Osaka has turned into a cosmic adventure.

All this has made the train something of a celebrity itself. "It looks like the train is part of the Star Wars films," said one man.

Many businesses see the Star Wars franchise as a vehicle for promoting their wares. One bookstore has set up a section for products linked to the theme.

Attracting a lot of attention at the store was an iPhone case. The design is complex, beautiful and inspired by an unlikely object.

The case was made in a small factory. The company running it usually makes circuit boards for industrial equipment and electric signs at train stations. But the president decided to branch out to other gadgets and crafts based on the circuit boards.

Computer-assisted drawing software was used to create a spaceship on one of the boards. The project was complex and took nine months to get right.

Hiroki Kitayama president of Denshi-Gihan, the firm behind the case, explained his thinking:

"This product showcases technology from Japan, our technological prowess and our devotion to craftsmanship. We want people to understand how artistic circuit boards can be."

And Japanese artisans are also feeling the Star Wars influence. Takayuki Takeya is one of the country's foremost creators of figurines. He's designed many characters and is responsible for a lot of visual effects in movies.

Now, Takeya has created a series of figurines for a toy maker. They feature Star Wars characters in samurai armor. Sales started a year ago.

Takeya formed a team to work on the figurines, from concept design to production. They collaborated closely with Lucasfilm, the production company behind the Star Wars empire. Numerous details had to be tweaked to fit with the brand.

"I appreciate anyone who finds the designs somewhat alien, yet still likes them," said Takeya. "Star Wars already has legions of fans, but I want more people to join their ranks. I'll be a happy man if I can help make that happen."

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