'Transformers' makes Japan homecoming

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TOKYO -- DreamWorks/Paramount's "Transformers" returned to its spiritual home Tuesday evening as director Michael Bay, Josh Duhamel, illusionist Franz Harary and thousands of fans converged here for a Japanese premiere that brought the characters' 23-year odyssey full circle.

The shape-changing automatons the hit film is based on began life in a toy-design workshop in eastern Tokyo nearly three decades ago. In 1984, U.S. toymaker Hasbro teamed with Japan's Takara, believing that the action figures had potential outside robot-obsessed Japan.

The partnership has continued fruitfully until today -- still shipping a million toys annually in Japan and five million globally -- and led to the TV series and movies.

While other recent premieres, including those for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Spider-Man 3," were held at the swanky Roppongi Hills cinema in the city center, "Transformers" debuted in the aircraft hangarlike venue at the Tokyo Big Sight complex in Odaiba. The sci-fi look of the area, which sits on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay and also houses the futuristic Fuji TV building, provided an apt backdrop for a tale of robotic wars.

The show began with a live outside feed of illusionist Harary, who wowed the crowd by making a Transformers robot appear from the top of the spaceshiplike Big Sight building.

Bay and "Transformers" star Duhamel, who plays Capt. Lennox in the movie, then took to the stage. Bay, who said it was his seventh trip to Japan, appeared genuinely impressed with the turnout. Though when told how many were in attendance, he joked, "4,000 people ... is this for free?"

After being reassured by the emcee that it wouldn't dent boxoffice receipts, he went on to say how happy he was to be back in the country where the "Transformers" originated.

Duhamel though, confessed, "I actually only found out yesterday from Michael that the Transformers first came from Japan."

Harary then reappeared driving a Chevy Camaro onto the stage. He proceeded to cover the car with a sheet, levitate it high into the air, for Bay to pull away the cover, revealing a huge Bumblebee robot.

"Transformers" opens nationwide here Aug. 4.
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