Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

Did they really need to include the "Japan"? Considering that Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is currently the only park operating outside of the United States, why not just call it Universal Studios?

Was there a real fear that guests were likely to become so enveloped in magic that they would actually mistake their surroundings?

"Look honey, it's Charlie Brown. Well of course he's speaking's America!"

But I digress.

Since Osaka loves to play, "anything you can do I can do better" with Tokyo, it is only fitting that the city would develop its own answer to the Disney theme parks. I've been to Universal Studios Hollywood many times with my family. While USJ was largely the same as the California park, I still had lots of fun.

Here are my impressions from the rides:

Hollywood Dream -

USJ's premiere thrill ride. While a bit tame as far as coasters go, it did provide a decent drop at the beginning. The best part of the ride was that you could choose one of five song selections to have blast through the in-seat speakers while you were riding. I chose Eminem's Lose Yourself. Somehow, Let It Be was just a little too tame for loops and corkscrews.

Spider-Man -

"Supida sensu tinguringu!" Spidey speaks fluent Japanese! Who knew? I had never been on this ride in America. It's a combination of 3D video and motion simulation. I thought the interaction between the vehicle and the 3D characters was pretty cool, though the ride itself was super jarring. At the end, the Japanese kids in my car were screaming "Let's do it again!," while their parents looked like they were about to hurl.

Jurassic Park -

This one was a carbon copy of the American version. I guess John Hammond has been going to the same Japanese language school as Peter Parker.

Jaws -

A Japanese actor (posing as a tour guide) leads your boat through Amity Island as the famous great white attacks! I don't know what was worse, the overly dramatic, scenery chewing actor, or the mother seated next to me, who was gyrating and screaming for the benefit of her two small sons. Either way, I seriously hoped Jaws would eat them both.

Snoopy's Great Race -

This child coaster lasted a mere 18 seconds and was completely not worth the hour I spent waiting in line. Still, the Peanuts theme is one that never gets old...even on constant loop.


This 30-minute show was an incredibly condensed version of the hit Broadway musical WICKED. They managed to hit all of the main songs from the Wizard of Oz musical, while axing most of the characters and plot. The cast was a Western - Japanese hybrid. The actress playing Elphaba (Wicked Witch of the West) was American, but the actress playing Glinda was Japanese.

All the song lyrics, as well as the actual lines, switched between Japanese and English at random, oftentimes in mid sentence. The result was incredibly hard to follow for me - like trying to watch a movie as someone toggled the foreign language track on and off.

I wasn't sure whether the Wicked Witch actress could speak fluent Japanese or had simply memorized her lines phonetically. Either way, her pronunciation was excellent. Glinda, unfortunately, got few laughs from the stone-faced Japanese audience.

I always wonder how theme park actors and actresses describe their jobs to others. Of course they could simply describe themselves as "actors".

But, I think the following is much more fun -

A: "What do you do for a living Mary?"

B: "Me? I'm the Wicked Witch of the West."

(cue smoke cloud)


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