Universal Studios Osaka
If Osaka Castle was a glimpse into Japan's revered past, the trip to Universal Studios was a look at the technology-obsessed side of Japanese life. The complex is a tribute to the type of entertainment that high-tech know-how can produce. From the moment one passes through the arched entryway (left), you are caught up in a frenzied pace. The entrance opens onto an American-style boulevard, with each block imitating a popular piece of American real estate--New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco. As you walk under the canopy that protects this little slice of Americana from the elements, music assaults your senses. At the end of the second block of the boulevard, the attractions begin. While we sampled only a portion of the rides, each was unique and enjoyable. The photo to the right shows the entrance to the E.T. Adventure, essentially an automated ride that takes you through scenes from the movie. The highlight of the ride are the animatronic creatures and people that move and talk as you glide by them on your bicycle.
Just down the street from the E.T. Adventure was this Chicago-style firehouse (left) that serves as the entrance to the Backdraft experience. This was not a ride, but rather a trip through three separate Hollywood sets. Each set was constructed around the Backdraft theme, and in each we were treated to the sort of polytechnics that the movie made famous. Each set contained a series of explosions and fires that were disturbingly close and alarmingly real. Actually, the amount of heat they generated was a welcome relief from the cold conditions outside. Just as spectacular as the demonstrations themselves was the way that each set "reset" itself after each demonstration--there was absolutely no indication of what had just transpired. Along with the demonstrations themselves were explanations by staff members as to how the Hollywood effects are staged. Fascinating. The next attraction, Back to the Future, was more of a traditional ride, but with a twist: the actual ride (in this case the famous DeLorean car) remained stationary, poised in front of a wrap-around video screen. By manipulating the angle and motion of the car, as well the use of fans, any type of motion could be simulated. The result is a harrowing "ride" through the scenes of the movie. It was truly amazing how every sensation of movement could be simulated by simply adjusting the angle of the ride relative to the video screen.
Our next adventure took place outdoors, a ride through the abandoned laboratory and reptile pens of Jurassic Park. This was more of a traditional ride, as we were strapped into a roller coaster sort of contraption and then rode the rails through the gates of the park itself. The main attraction of the ride were the animatronic dinosaurs. While the bulk of the ride takes place outdoors, the most spectacular part of the ride involves a rather steep climb into a laboratory area, menaced by the constant sniping of the raptors. At the height of the ascent, the huge menacing head of a tyrannosaurs rex appears (shrouded in mist); riders narrowly escape by sliding below the head into a pool of water below. The spray of the water is bracing, to say the least, in the dead of the Japanese winter. If there were real dinosaurs, the temperatures would have certainly guaranteed extinction.
While still a bit wet, we trudged
to Amityville, not just a ride but a whole sub region of Universal
Studios. The photo at the left shows a typical Cape Cod style catboat
in the lagoon that is at the center of the park. There are a
series of snack shops and stores that separate the Jurassic Park
and Waterworld (closed at the time) exhibits from the
Amityville Area. The Jaws ride was terrific, although not for the
reasons one might expect. Yes, it had the usual animatronics, a
persistent shark that attacked our boat time and time again. However,
even more entertaining was our guide on the boat. As she guided us
through the dangerous waters (actually, the boat was following
underwater tracks) she told us of the impending danger in a taut,
storyteller's voice. And when the shark attacked, she fearlessly held
her ground, shooting at it with a very suspicious-looking toy gun she
had on board. And every time she had driven the shark away, she held
the gun over her held to wild applause--sort of like theater afloat.
This is pretty good acting, considering that she takes a boatload of
potential shark bait every 10 minutes or so. As for the shark, I guess
we have seen the movie and the special too many times to be that
frightened. Still, it was certainly a fun ride.
The last attraction that we
went on, the
Terminator 2, was easily the most high-tech of all the exhibits.
The premise of the show is that the audience is being ushered in to
review a new type of robot (the company apparently forgot what happened
last time they went down this road). After an introduction visitors are
shown into a huge theater. As the keynote speaker begins to introduce
the latest in robot technology, a very Asian-Looking Arnold
Schwarzenegger and John Connor burst onto the scene and gunplay ensues.
Then things really got interesting. As the two heroes appear to ascend
a ladder into a larger room, the entire front of the room becomes
a huge screen. The actors (now of the celluloid variety) are now
visible on the other side of the screen, in a huge laboratory. As the
story ensues, it quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary
screen, but a 3d holographic projection. As the "good guys" go about
tearing down the lab, objects begin to fly around, seemingly suspended
just inches from your nose. The seamless integration of the actors, the
visuals and the holographic images is simply amazing. I shudder to
think what this attraction costs.
The high-tech thrills notwithstanding, nothing captures the spirit of Hollywood as much as a parade. Accordingly, every day at Universal Studios ends with a gala parade with a Hollywood motif. The photo to the right shows the herald of the parade, Woody Woodpecker, perched high on a director's crane. Next (left) come a bevy of Hollywood starlets in a vintage automobile, flanked by ushers on stilts. Behind this follows a troupe of break dancers. Each subsequent float (only a few are pictured here) take their theme from a Universal Studios' movie. For example, one of the early floats was based on the popular movie The Mummy. The photo to the left shows one of the menacing jackals surrounding the pyramid float. If ancient Egypt is not far enough back in time, the next float was the Jurassic Park entourage, with one of the ill-fated tour cars followed by the float full of dinosaurs. Leading the way is a park ranger waving a pterodactyl on a long pole (click on the picture to the right for an enlargement). The parade is accompanied by graffiti, music--all the usual fanfare. The picture below shows two young revelers at the parade's end.
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