This is the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars in Japan, and to celebrate we're proud to present a Japanese special feature!

"Panasonic: Itsumo (Always) Something New"

I collect paper. It is a dark side of Star Wars collecting from which I haven't been able to escape. I have about 600 pages of Japanese advertisements and 1400 books, and including my overseas collection I have amassed around 2500 unique items. From this Star Wars paper collection I bring you the Star Wars in Japan 30th Anniversary Feature, a history of Japanese Star Wars advertising campaigns, featuring the man himself, George Lucas.

Star Wars in 1987

As Star Wars began to die out as a topic of conversation and horror was becoming the popular genre, the sci-fi magazine "Starlog" bit the dust with its February issue. At the time I was a third year university student and had again lost another of my beloved pastimes.

However, it was right around that time that Star Wars experienced somewhat of a revival. 1987 marked the US 10 year anniversary of Star Wars, and I happened upon an article about a convention held at a Los Angeles hotel. "Gosh, it's already been ten years," I thought, but for me, all of this was something happening far away over the sea. Not to mention Star Tours had just been completed at Disneyland. America was so lucky!

While America was enjoying Star Wars conventions and theme-park rides, in Japan there were advertising campaigns that have, over the years, gone largely unnoticed - first appearing in the movie magazines "Roadshow" and "Screen". In the winter of my third year at university, on the TV in the cafeteria where I was doing work experience, I had my second life-changing experience relating to Star Wars. (CF: 30sec)

Excited voices filled the cafeteria. "A new Star Wars movie?!" As a galaxy far, far away exploded on the small screen, the chopsticks in my hand snapped apart - such was my excitement! Watch the video a few times and try to imagine what it would be like to get a sudden infusion of Star Wars in 1987.

There is a George Lucas many American's don't know. George Lucas the actor. George Lucas who speaks Japanese. And... George Lucas the corporate image.

More on this later. First, let's take a looks at the storm of Lucas advertising that hit Japan, starting with some images from the TV commercials.

TV Commercials: Mid-September 1987

The commercials were made in America in secret; the US media catching no wind of their existence. Lucas participated in the production solely for the Japanese Star Wars audience. The commercials were followed by a series of posters.

Posters: Mid-September 1987

A series of 8 posters were presented at a special event held at Umeda Station, Osaka. Besides the original 8, there's Jabba, a front-facing Vader poster, and the George Lucas variation poster.

Picture it. Getting a glimpse of George Lucas as you woke up and read the paper or turned on the TV. You'd go into town and see a Star Wars character wherever you went! More would appear if you went into an electronics store or opened a magazine in a bookstore. Can you imagine it? That's what it was like in Japan for a while back in 1987. Next, I'd like to present to you some behind-the-scenes footage and information on related events.

The Concept

The advertising caption in Playboy Weekly:
"George Lucas. The man who directed and produced Star Wars. Combining electronics of high technology and the imagination, a great man who became the genius that created a cinematic world bursting with love and romance. To the people, he is the sorcerer of the big screen. With a strong sense of history and tradition, he is a man who will lead us into the future. Alongside George Lucas, Matsushita Electric brings you its latest concept of "Human Electronics," an impressive world of audio, visual and computer technology. Gear yourself towards magnificent picture quality and a galaxy of sound. Count on Matsushita Electric to bring you "Always Something New."

Why Matsushita Electric went with Star Wars?

  • Market results showed that National (Matsushita Electric) was a brand preferred by parents

  • It was a marketing strategy to make a stronger impact on young people

  • Star Wars had characters that appealed to a young audience

Why George Lucas went with Matsushita Electric

  • It fitted in the with the 10-year anniversary of Star Wars

  • Matsushita's idea of "Human Electronics" matched Lucas's vision of "Human Technology"

The Making of the Campaign March-September 1987

Preliminary Filming
The contract was approved at 11 AM on the first day of filming. The filming crew on standby was apparently anxious to get started. The picture below on the left shows the meeting prior to filming: Lucas, the head of operations, and the Osaka Dentsu staff. The picture on the right shows Lucas sitting on a crane, part of a newly-developed system that allowed the lighting to be adjusted more freely. It was the culmination of various ILM technologies that allowed the commercials to be made one after the other in succession. It's also interesting that director George Lucas made his big debut in casual wear.

The Print Advertisements
Along with the commerical, a large-scale newspaper, magazine and poster campaign was planned simultaneously. In order for these to stand out, the characters were shot in a portrait style. The result was something quite unlike the feel of the original movies. Lucas was originally opposed to having C-3PO stand alongside him with a butterfly net, but the idea was eventually adopted. There was also some opposition to using the highly valued Yoda puppet, and only the Yoda poster eventually got the OK. A lot of care was taken to get the advertisements up to the high standards of Lucasfilm. Here you can see the costume is being meticulously checked and setup.

The TV Commercials
Matsushita produced the picture continuity in Japan. Scenes that were thought impossible to make were done with special effects, e.g. the glowing sphere, the stop-motion animation for the robots, etc. Interestingly, there were no initial plans to use the space ship, but Lucas suggested they try having it fly out, and this was how the opening scene came to be made.

George Lucas' Trip to Japan Sept 19-20, 1987

A press conference was held to promote the launch of the campaign, which was received very positively. The person to the left wearing the suit is Matsushita's chief of advertising. The day that the Lucas/corporate Japan tie-in became public was a momentous occasion. Matsushita's chief of advertising apparently said the entire advertising budget for each section was used for the campaign that year. According to statistics, Matsushita was ranked 7th in terms of advertising expenditure in 1987 but rose to 2nd place by 1988.

The Poster Event at Osaka's Umeda Station
Dec 2-7, 1987

During a tour of Japan Lucas was apparently surprised to see his giant billboard outside the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza, but in December a "poster event" was also held in Osaka, the home of Matsushita's head office. The photo shows 48 of the eight different giant posters being displayed inside the station. The corner set up specifically for the purpose of displaying the posters became quite a topic of conversation. I guess Japan being suddenly pasted with reams of enormous posters might have been a little scary at the time!

The Master-Drawn Star Wars Woodblock Print
Jan 7, 1988

On January 7, just as people were beginning to wind down after the New Year holidays, an astonishing advertisement was run in the newspaper. It depicted Lucas holding a camcorder in one hand while riding a dragon on a raging sea with a cast of Star Wars characters - all done in the style of ukiyoe master Hokusai. The artist was Katanari Itoh, who had already risen to fame with Suntory's "sumie" series. The original of this is kept at the Adachi Institute* of Woodcut Prints. This advertisement can also be seen in Stephen Sansweet's 2007 book Star Wars Vault.

*The Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints is famous worldwide for identifying a large cache of Edo-Period Hokusai originals at the Boston Institute of Fine Arts in 1985.

National Franchises Nationwide Monthly Event
March, 1988

In May of 1988 a "Fresh Fair" was held, the slogan of which was "Meeting the demands for school, work, and 'single' life!" Preliminary activities (a leaflet and lifestyle catalog campaign targeting young people) were thoroughly initiated, and stores were ordered to spruce up their "Always Something New" storefronts for the spring season. Decorations, wall hangings, Vader cutouts, etc., were all distributed to retail stores.

Prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics

This was followed by an assault of Panasonic commercials. "High-definition is today's equivalent of the picture scroll," was done in a similarly traditional style to the woodcut advertisement. Star Wars and Japan seem to go quite well together, especially when it comes to Darth Vader! That summer, the Olympic Games were held in Seoul (September 9 to October 2), which turned out to be another good excuse to make Star Wars commercials.

Not much is known about the black and white one above (originally in color), but it is thought to be from a commercial for the satellite broadcasting system "Starry Parabola." The first two commercials are currently available on YouTube.

Panasonic SFX 1988 July 23-Aug 1, 1988

Sponsored by Yomiuri Television to celebrate their 30th anniversary in broadcasting, an event was held to promote Panasonic and special effects. It was also supported by the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education, with Panasonic in charge of running the event. The back of the leaflet read, "The 10 days that Osaka-Jo Hall will be transformed into a spaceship," and pictured at the bottom was a wonderful image of Lucas and Yoda, both levitating in a seated position.

Magazines had been writing about the creation of a new character between Matsushita Denki and Lucas and the event was thought to have something to do with that. Here's a news article at the time (Japanese) with R2-D2 and Yoda pictured.

The Release of Sparky! Fall, 1988

Who do we have here? "My name is Sparky, the mysterious genius student robot built by George Lucas." What kind of personality do you have? "I'm bright, diplomatic and goofy. Oh, and I love girls! My favorite subject is math." Height: 1m, Weight: 60kg, Virgo, Blood type: O.

Matsushita's ad campaign ended up being a big success, and the images of Star Wars were brought to the forefront as a result. They must of have been thinking about what would happen when Lucas' contract came to end, and settled on Sparky to take over once that happened. This "genius robot" was done at the request of Matsushita and designed by artist Ralph McQuarrie. ILM put all their efforts into the actual fabrication of the bot.

While sitting in a penthouse, Lucas opens a book. He turns the page to a picture of a flower. The petals suddenly turn into a dragonfly and it flies out. All in all, a very Lucas-like fairy tale commercial with the impossible becoming possible.

The filming was done by ILM, and shot using the "Gore-motion" technique, better known as stop-motion special effects. The picture to the right shows the camera which gave birth to this emotionally stirring piece.

Naturally, this inspired a host of print media as well. The left picture is of a train advertisement. Lucas appears to be in pain! A sort of biographical catalog on Sparky was also made. Both were done by the design firm Crank.

Now that's a big clock! People sending in Panasonic videotape POPs went were entered in a drawing to win one of 3000 of these jumbo alarm clocks, which came in both pink and black. I've been too scared to actually try using mine as an alarm! This leaflet claims the clock is 101cm in height and 63kg in weight, which is different to the information that appeared in magazines. Perhaps this one grew?

Sparky eventually left though, didn't he? He went back to his home planet or something, right? No, in fact he just went into hiding. Amazingly, when Microsoft and Ascii proposed a home computer called the "MSX," Sparky was found to be alive and well on the software's opening screen. (Sorry, I only have this small photo of it.)

The 5th Anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland and Star Tours
1988 to 1989

At the time, Matsushita was the sponsor of the rotating theater attraction "Meet the World", which was used to promote Japanese history. If you take a look at the Tokyo Disneyland guides for the year that the park was having its 5th anniversary, you're bound to find a National advertisement. Take a good look at the pictures! Those are Ewoks! And that's Lucas' face there on that Panasonic ad.

In fact, the Tokyo Disneyland guidebook is the only place you will find these images. Perhaps they were taken especially for the occasion? Disney, George Lucas and Panasonic all played valuable roles in the year following the opening of Star Tours. Lucas was even in attendance at the Star Tours' opening ceremony, so it was only natural that Matsushita would become the sponsor. It all equates to a rather sublime combination.

A special event called "Space Fantasy" (October 1 to November 23) was held to promote the opening. Mickey looks a bit weird in his spacesuit and I think I see Chewie and an Ewok in that photo too!

Campaign Awards Information

In 1989, a commercial was released of George Lucas taking a stroll around ILM in San Rafael. It was at this point that the campaign reached its peak by sweeping a number of advertising and television commercial awards...

The 4th Yoimuri Advertising Awards
Gold prize won for Lucas with the lightsaber, Jabba, and Vader

The 35th Asahi Advertising Awards
Runner-up prize won for the poster series

The 17th Fuji-Sankei Group Advertising Awards
The "Newspaper Topical Advertisement Award" won for Lucas with the lightsaber

The TCC Awards (1988)
"F Section" (household appliances and AV equipment) won for the poster series

Commercial Festival Japan 1988
The "Excellence in Precision Equipment" award for "Starry Parabola"

The 18th Fuji-Sankei Group Advertising Awards
The Public Relations ACC Award for Public Organizations, Businesses and Miscellaneous Groups, won for "Lucas and Friends"

It's a pity they're not for sale

The people in that cafeteria back 1987 knew a little about Star Wars... but the sensation I got that day made me want find out more about it. In fact it could have been a turning point for me. When it comes to paper, it's not just posters and photos and cards, but leaflets, advertisements and magazines too. These are Panasonic products that are no longer for sale. We can't order anything from the magazines, of course. It's just something we'll have to live with!

Electric Appliance Catalogs

Back Page Advertisements

Magazine Advertisements

Leaflets and Inserts

Telephone Cards and Unused Clocks

A Display Showing Some Panasonic Items

Celebration Japan (CJ) 2008

I hope with this article I've been able to conjure up in your minds the image of a 3D holographic George Lucas riding on a dragon. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Star Wars in Japan, and George Lucas has blessed us this year with Celebration Japan... the same George Lucas who appeared in commercials for us during the 10th anniversary. It's funny how this year's anniversary makes me recollect the previous one.